Gulliver1(1) Essay, Research Paper
Subject: EnglishLanguage: EnglishJonathan Swifts Gulliver’s Travels Gulliver in Houynhnmland One of the most interesting questions about Gullivers Travels iswhether the Houyhnhnms represent an ideal of rationality or whether onthe other hand they are the butt of Swift’s satire. In other words, inBook IV, is Swift poking fun at the talking horses or does he intend forus to take them seriously as the proper way to act? If we look closely atthe way that the Houyhnhnms act, we can see that in fact Swift does nottake them seriously: he uses them to show the dangers of pride. First we have to see that Swift does not even take Gullverseriously. For instance, his name sounds much like gullible, whichsuggests that he will believe anything. Also, when he first sees theYahoos and they throw excrement on him, he responds by doing the same inreturn until they run away. He says, “I must needs discover some morerational being,” (203) even though as a human he is already the mostrational being there is. This is why Swift refers to Erasmus Darwinsdiscovery of the origin of the species and the voyage of the Beagle–toshow how Gulliver knows that people are at the top of the food chain. But if Lemule Gulliver is satirized, so are the Houyhnhnms, whosevoices sound like the call of castrati. They walk on two legs instead offour, and seem to be much like people. As Gulliver says, “It was with theutmost astonishment that I witnessed these creatures playing the fluteand dancing a Vienese waltz. To my mind, they seemed like the greatesthumans ever seen in court, even more dextrous than the Lord Edmund Burke”(162). As this quote demonstrates, Gulliver is terribly impressed, buthis admiration for the Houyhnhnms is short-lived because they are soprideful. For instance, the leader of the Houyhnhnms claims that he hasread all the works of Charles Dickens, and that he can singlehandedlyrecite the names of all the Kings and Queens of England up to George II. Swift subtly shows that this Houyhnhnms pride is misplaced when, in themiddle of the intellectual competition, he forgets the name of QueenElizabeths husband. Swifts satire of the Houyhnhnms comes out in other ways as well. One of the most memorable scenes is when the dapple grey mare attempts to
woo the horse that Guenivre has brought with him to the island. First sheacts flirtatiously, parading around the bewildered horse. But when thisdoes not have the desired effect, she gets another idea:”As I watched in amazement from my perch in the top of a tree, the sorrelnag dashed off and returned with a yahoo on her back who was yet moremonstrous than Mr. Pope being fitted by a clothier. She dropped thiscreature before my nag as if offering up a sacrifice. My horse sniffedthe creature and turned away.” (145)It might seem that we should take this scene seriously as a failedattempt at courtship, and that consequently we should see the grey mareas an unrequited lover. But it makes more sense if we see that Swift isbeing satiric here: it is the female Houyhnhnm who makes the move, whichwould not have happened in eighteenth-century England. The Houyhnhm isbeing prideful, and it is that pride that makes him unable to impressGullivers horse. Gulliver imagines the horse saying, Sblood, the notionof creating the bare backed beast with an animal who had held Mr. Pope onher back makes me queezy (198). A final indication that the Houyhnmns are not meant to be takenseriously occurs when the leader of the Houynhms visits Lilliput, wherehe visits the French Royal Society. He goes into a room in which ascientist is trying to turn wine into water (itself a prideful act thatrefers to the marriage at Gallilee). The scientist has been working hardat the experiment for many years without success, when the Houyhnmnarrives and immediately knows that to do: “The creature no sooner steppedthrough the doorway than he struck upon a plan. Slurping up all the winein sight, he quickly made water in a bucket that sat near the door” (156). He has accomplished the scientists goal, but the scientist is not happy,for his livelihood has now been destroyed. Swifts clear implication isthat even though the Houyhnhmns are smart, they do not know how to usethat knowledge for the benefit of society, only for their own pridefulagrandizement. Throughout Gullivers Travels, the Houyhnhms are shown to be anideal gone wrong. Though their intent might have been good, they dontknow how to do what they want to do because they are filled with pride. They mislead Gulliver and they even mislead themselves. The satire onthem is particularly well explained by the new born Houyhnhm who, havingjust been born, exclaims, “With this sort of entrance, what must I expectfrom the rest of my life!” (178).