Our Man Lemuel
By the end of Book II in Gulliver’s Travels, it is very clear that the character of Gulliver is not the same man who wrote the letter in the beginning of the story. In fact, he is not the same man he was in Book I. From the onset of Gulliver’s Travels, Swift creates for us a seemingly competent character and narrator in Gulliver. In his account we learn how his adventures have changed him and his perception of people, for the central theme of this story is how human nature and reason reflect society.
On the whole, Gulliver is a very frustrating character to deal with for a number of reasons. For example, he’s not steady; this unsteadiness as a narrator leads us to question the validity of what Gulliver tells us. This means that we have to be on our guard against what he says, and even though he’s our guide, we can’t follow him everywhere, which is just what Swift wanted. Gulliver makes many apologies for himself and his actions and puts us the reader emotionally involved in the story. Gulliver seems to direct a good deal of hostility toward us, creating a tinge of hostility back at him. Ultimately, Gulliver works as a narrator because we can relate to him and as a result find him engaging. We too can jump from emotion to emotion, but in the long run, Swift is not attempting to create an Everyman. This Gulliver is not, by any means a wholly allegorical character, but as much an individual as the next person. In certain ways, Gulliver proves to be more resilient than the average man by managing to survive the disaster shipwrecks and people so foreign they might as well be aliens. Still in other ways Gulliver is a nave person, bereft of decency and consideration.
Gulliver is an entirely credible and probable person at the same time that he is precisely the person to be the instrument for Swift’s satire. In his incredible circumstances, Gulliver shows himself to be very resourceful and observant of his surroundings. With that he changes in relation to the places he visits and the events that befall him as he voyages. As a traveler in Lilliput, he’s careful in his observations and complete in his descriptions. Occupied as he is with the surface of things, we see Gulliver’s problem of not seeing with eyes wide open. Gulliver wanes in his judgment of character as he becomes more and more narrow-minded as the story progresses. So do we still see him as a good, all-around type of guy?
Lest we forget that he does get knocked around while he’s traveling, a primary reason for his shift in attitude. In Lilliput he seems to be eminently fair-minded compared to the cunning, vindictive, petty Lilliputians. Literally a giant in their land, Gulliver never takes unfair advantage of his size in his dealing with them. Though they’re violent with him, he never retaliates. However in Brobdingnag, Gulliver appears Lilliputian in more ways than one. Still, his size is a dire problem. He is frequently injured, as the king’s dwarf takes out his frustrations on Gulliver, but the latter is an improvement from his job as a freak at village fairs.
Ultimately, Gulliver has a hard time keeping it together under the strain of repeated attacks on his ego, and in his dealings with the Brobdingnagian king, Gulliver appears as nasty and cruel as the Lilliputians themselves. This is his tone when he returns to England, an angry man who thinks himself more a Brobdingnagian than anything else.