Study Guide

Mary Burton in Gulliver's Travels

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Mary Burton

Gulliver marries Mary Burton in the first chapter of his travels, but he never exactly spends a lot of time with her. In fact, even though she expressly asks him not to go back to sea at the end of Part 3, there he is, leaving again in Part 4. It is only upon Gulliver's return from Houyhnhnm Land that he resolves to stay home – but not because he's filled with a strong sense of family love. He is so fed up with people at this point in the novel that he can't bear to travel any more. This disgust extends to his wife and family: the smell and appearance of humans seems revolting to him. The thought that Mary has borne him children – has added to the overall human population! – is utterly revolting to him. For more on the novel's wonky ideas about gender, check out our "Theme" on the subject.

We have to wonder: what kind of a woman puts up with a husband who leaves for years at a time and won't help her raise her children with basically no complaints? What sort of a lady accepts the fact that her husband is too disgusted to eat dinner with her for five years? The answer is that it totally doesn't matter: Gulliver's wife has a function in the novel as a symbol of the home Gulliver has no interest in living in. She's definitely not a well-rounded character with any kind of psychological depth – like 99.9% of the other people in this book.

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