The Role and Function of Gulliver as a Narrator and an Observer

Jonathan Swift has presented Lemuel Gulliver as a narrator and an observer in his satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels. The account of the different voyages narrated by this fictitious character adds an element of realism to the incidents described, for we have the feeling that Gulliver really experienced those incidents in different voyages.

A careful analysis of Gulliver’s Travels reveals the fact that the primary function of Gulliver is essentially that of an observer and a narrator. He is endowed with an extraordinary power of observation. His narrations arrest our attention throughout. However, Gulliver also acts as a commentator through whom Swift conveys his criticism of mankind and his critical attitude to English institutions and politicians of his time. In the very beginning, Gulliver gives biographical details and at once becomes a living person. A physician by profession, Gulliver is a keen observer of men and manners. In Lilliput, he observes that the natives are great mathematicians and narrates how he is transported to the metropolis. After he is released from his chains, he goes around the town and gives a vivid description of the style of living, the habits, and beliefs of the people and their laws and customs. Similar descriptions are found in all the four voyages. In Laputa, he saw a woman with cancer in her breast and a man with a tumor in his neck.

Gulliver’s skill as a narrator is extraordinary. He narrates dramatic incidents as well as humorous episodes in order to satisfy our curiosity and add an element of realism in his descriptions. The comic and the dramatic moment are powerfully drawn in the first three voyages. In the first voyage, Gulliver finds himself in chains in Lilliput and his attitude to the pygmies is full of comedy and humor. They crawl on his body and as he roars; they all run in fear. Dramatic and exciting episodes like the threat of a Lilliputian, Gulliver’s seizure of the enemy fleet, his putting out a fire by urinating on it, the threat of an impeachment against Gulliver etc are major incidents in part I. In the second part Gulliver faces the giants and with great disgust observes a huge woman suckling her child. The sight of her monstrous breast is horrifying not only to Gulliver but also to the readers. In the royal palace the Queen’s Dwarf is jealous of Gulliver and one day at dinner, the Dwarf grabbed Gulliver and stuck him in some morrow. Later on, the Dwarf dropped Gulliver in a bowl of cream and had he not been a good swimmer, he would have been drowned. However, he had to swallow over a quart of cream before he was rescued. Insects posed a problem for Gulliver and he killed them in the fight with his sword. The greatest danger that Gulliver experienced in the kingdom happened when the door of his box was left open and a monkey seized him. Considering Gulliver as a baby monkey, the creature finally hauled Gulliver from his chambers and holding him in one paw jumped on one foot. When it was known that the monkey had stolen Gulliver, hundreds started chasing the monkey. The monkey finally left Gulliver on the roof. Once Gulliver chose to leap over some fresh cow dung on the way, he miserably failed in his attempt and landed in the middle. The Footman had to wipe him clean. In Book III, the flying island is indeed, a miracle. The experiments at the Academy of projectors are extremely interesting and Gulliver describes them with humor and fun. Book IV contains an exiting account of strange creatures like the Yahoos and Houyhnhnms. It is a land where the horses can talk and teach their language to a human being. Gulliver narrates all these incidents and episodes with great narrative skill.

Gulliver is also presented as a commentator and a moral judge. He not only observes and narrates but also deeply thinks and comments. He often ponders over what he sees and draws conclusions from his experiences. In Book II, he reflects on one of the situations “this made me reflect vain an attempt it is for a man to endeavor to do himself honor among those who are not of all degree of equality or comparison with him”. In Book IV, he comments on the Houyhnhnms and human beings. “But I must freely confess that many virtues of those excellent quadrupeds, placed in opposite view to human corruptions, had so far opened mire eyes and enlarged my understanding that I began to view the actions and passions of man in a very different light.” However, the most significant role that Gulliver plays in the back is the medium through whom Swift communicates his satirical purposes. Thorough he, Swift gives the satirical account of conflicts between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants in Book I. When Gulliver described the rope-dancing and the creeping under a string, he reflects Swift’s satire on the Sycophancy of the politicians in order to win royal favor. Gulliver’s narration of the king, utterances about the human race reflects Swift’s own denunciation. In Book III, the account of the researchers at the Academy of projectors expresses Swift’s satire as the useless researches by the Royal Society. In Book IV, Swift conveys his misanthrope and cynical views on mankind through Gulliver. Though Gulliver serves as a spokesman of Swift, he should not be fully identified with Swift. Gulliver should be considered as an objective dramatic character, recounting his experiences like a moving tale. The role and function of Gulliver in Swift’s satirical masterpiece is of great significance and importance. He is the protagonist who makes us see what he saw during his great voyages.


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