Gulliver makes no comment or criticism of the Houyhnhnms actions, but only praises them on education and reason. Despite these praises, we later discover their lack of knowledge outside their own country and lifestyle, “For, as he had no conception of any country besides his own, so he could not be expert in distinguishing remote objects at sea, as we who so much converse in that element. “8 Here we see a critical conception of the Houyhnhnms and a self-involved, almost arrogant nature, again Swift hints at other human failings, but Gulliver simply dismisses them as quirks of this race.
Swift still maintains an element of humanistic behaviour and knowledge within Gulliver throughout his visit to Houyhnhnmland, which enables the reader to constantly relate to his character, and therefore enhances the satirical aspect. Swift uses Gulliver’s description of his own society and the reaction of the Houyhnhnms to emphasize the many failings of society and its structure. Due to the lack of understanding by the Houyhnhnms of these concepts Gulliver is shown the triviality of many practices within his society, “Whereupon I was at much pains to describe to him the use of money, the materials it was made of, and the value of the metals.
“9 Swift reveals the human failings, such as greed and the poverty that men entail. As the Houyhnhnms have no concept of these vices we are shown the faults of mankind by Swift’s satirical expressions. The Houyhnhnms go on to compare these actions of Gulliver’s society to the behaviour of the Yahoos and suggests that as humans have reason therefore their actions are worse than those of the Yahoos who know no reason, “But, when a creature pretending to reason, could be capable of such enormities, he dreaded lest the corruption of that faculty might be worse than brutality itself. ”
10 Again Swift shows the flaws of humanity and the contrast between reason and corruption, therefore satirising humans’ concept of reason. The Houyhnhnms attack both man and Gulliver’s pride which concludes Gulliver’s belief in the Houyhnhnms perfection. The Houyhnhnms find many faults with the society of Gulliver, but also find many parallels to the actions of the Yahoo’s, which destroys Gulliver’s belief in humanity.
Aside from the behaviour of his culture, the Houyhnhnms also find fault with the physical form of humans, which appear inferior to that of even the Yahoo’s. Here we see the state of nature theory, with the yahoo’s maintaining physical strength or the stature for fighting, where Gulliver’s master believes their Yahoo’s “would drive a dozen of yours before” them. Swift attacks the pride of the race, as stated by Rosenheim, “His task, as I have suggested, is to implant not affirmative conviction but an agonising awareness of inadequacy and false pride within the minds of his audiences.
“11 Swift completes this aim through the change in Gulliver and his lack of faith in his own society. We see the good actions of the Houyhnhnms and the comparisons that Gulliver makes to his own behaviour to re-establish the readers belief in society. However, despite these superior actions of the Houyhnhnms, Swift also uses a number of similarities throughout the creation of this society, one of the most prominent being that of the hierarchy within the society, “my master.. , his children, and every servant in the house. “12.
With this structure Swift tackles a most important point of his contemporary society, that of the segregation between rich and poor, and the class divide. However we do not see a critical point, only one of observation which suggests that this was not a prominent issue for Swift. We see a hierarchy of respect in Gulliver’s lifestyle and his interaction with the Houyhnhnms, where he has a “master” which exemplifies his inferiority to these creatures. From this interaction Swift shows an acute influence over Gulliver’s behaviour and his beliefs of society.
Upon Gulliver’s exile from the Houyhnhnmland he cannot conceive of the idea of rejoining the ‘Yahoo’ society, “For in such a solitude as I desired, I could at least enjoy my own thoughts, and reflect with delight on the virtues of those inimitable Houyhnhnms, without any opportunity of degenerating into the vices and corruptions of my own species. “13 Swift has shown the change in Gulliver which has led to him referring to himself as a yahoo, but also his awareness of the failings of humankind and his society.
He has seen the behaviour of the yahoo’s and, mainly due to the perfect nature of the Houyhnhnms, begun to relate their ugliness with his own actions. Swift exemplifies this disgust with Gulliver’s return to England and consequently to his family. We see his shame at having bred more yahoos and as his delusions show his family to smell and feel like yahoo’s we are encouraged to exclude any differences between the two races. Gulliver appears to lose all sense of rationality, however Swift uses the ambiguity of the discrepancies between humans and Yahoo’s to force the reader into examining the flaws of humankind.
Swift previously shows this blindness through the Yahoos, “[T]he odiousness of their own shapes, which all could see in the rest, but not in themselves. “14 Swift uses generic satire by showing the Yahoo’s blinkered view of life and their own actions. He also uses their greed to satire the human selfishness and the structure of society with the objective of having “to have all to it self”15. By comparison to the Houyhnhnms Swift exemplifies the horror which is the Yahoo’s behaviour, but, in turn, also epitomizes the actions of the Houyhnhnms, as Case affirms, “The Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos represent the extremes between which human behaviour may range. ”
16 Throughout ‘A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms’, and the entirety of Gulliver’s Travels Swift uses a range of comparisons to envelop the ideas of perfection and complete rationality. He brings into question the human pride and the fatality it has upon society. Swift uses the physically filth of the Yahoos to symbolise his views on the state of society and their actions to exemplify those of his contemporary society.
Through Gulliver’s Travels, Swift gives a commentary on the human condition between reason and rationality, and the selfishness of the Yahoos. Swift suggests many flaws with the human psyche and expresses his concern through the creation of other worlds and therefore other societies whose behaviour either contrasts or compares to that of our own. He makes a critical comment upon the reasoning of society and makes the reader question his own actions and those which surround him.
Bibliography Swift, J. (1994), Gulliver’s Travels, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Case, A. E. (1958), Four Essays on Gulliver’s Travels, Princeton University Press, Princeton. Donoghue, D. (1969), Jonathan Swift: A Critical Introduction, Cambridge University Press, London. Johnson, C. R. (1977), Plots and Characters in the Fiction of 18th-Century English Authors, WM Dawson & Sons, Kent. Rosenheim, E. (1963), Swift and the Satirist Art, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
1 Rosenheim, Swift and the Satirist Art (1963), p214 2 Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (1994), p227 3 ibid. , p227 4 ibid. , p226 5 ibid. , p229 6 Donoghue, Jonathan Swift: A Critical Introduction (1969), p171 7 Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (1994), p260 8 ibid. , p273 9 ibid. , p243 10 ibid. , p240 11 Rosenheim, Swift and the Satirist Art (1963), p216 12 Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (1994), p226 13 Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (1994), p275 14 ibid. , p252 15 ibid, p252 16 Case, Four Essays on Gulliver’s Travels (1958), p124.