In the writing’s of the Jonathan Swift we can clearly see issues and concepts with regard to morality, ethics and relations come into play in our society and in Gulliver’s Travels, Swift brings those issues to the for front for everyone to see and analyze. The very concepts and beliefs that man holds dear Swift attacks and strongly justifies his literary aggression thought the construct of the society of the Houyhnahnms who truly leads a just and humane society that we as humans (Yahoos) have the faintest concept of.
As I will later point out, Swift also deals with human ignorance and the overall belief that nothing in this earth can be more civilized and exert more reason then us. He uses the characters of the Houyhnahnms to demonstrate our inadequacies and overall failures to exert and practice true reason. Issues such as war, corruption, rape, homosexuality, lying (false representation), slavery, bribery, greed, and murder does not exist in a society that understands the true meaning of reason.
We can clearly see the metamorphosis of Gulliver from is departure from his wife and children to being mutinied to his initial encounter with the Yahoos as well as the Houyhnahnms, to his experiences over a 5 year period in his interactions with the Houyhnhnms to his departure and return home to his wife and kids we can clearly see the change from a man (yahoo) to a Houyhnhnm (in spirit). So as we take a closer look at Gulliver’s travels, we will see that the Voyage of the Houyhnhnm is about change, understanding, and clarity of oneself, his beliefs, morals and values.
From the start of leaving his family to began the voyage, Gulliver had no idea that he would be dealing with such complex issues and facing such challenges that he was first confronted with and the evils of human kind as his crew locks him in his cabin and takes over his ship. As we will later see, the first goal of the new captain is to “turn pirates and plunder the Spaniards” (P192). Here we can see that it is the desire of man to do unjust things and these actions do no lie within the concept of a species that truly understand reason.
After his crew drops him off, he is first faced with the prospect of not being able to survive in this island to which he has no ideas is located within the world. After his experience with the group of yahoo’s in the jungle he is perplexed because he has never seen this type of animal before. His overall impression of them are that of disgust and fear. As he ventures further, he then discovers the creature that will forever change his life.
He first encounter with the Houyhnhnm can be characterized as ignorance. As he first gazes upon the horse like creatures he state that “they are so rational, so acute and judicious, that I at last concluded, they must needs be Magicians. “(P195) that we see the ignorance of man come into light. We must immediately ask ourselves the questions that if man is a creature who can practice reason, then why is it that no other creature can when the idea and practice of reason cannot only lye within the reaches of man.
As his two new associates guide him to the small village of the Houyhnhnms he begins to view and assimilate all he can about the culture and customs of this new race of beings that he has discovered. The Houyhnhnms, through the master also began to do the same for they are very confused as to how a Yahoo can obtain such a vast knowledge of speech, language and gentle interaction. One of the first things that confused Gulliver as well as myself is the inability of the Houyhnhnms to tell a falsehood and “have no word in their language to express lying or falsehood” (P. 09) I guess that there is a kind of ignorance that is perpetuated between Gulliver and his Master about the extent and the abilities of all creatures of the world. This is clearly expressed in the many conversations about the concepts of how they and their kind view the world and the place of creatures and their abilities. In chap V, Gulliver begins to describe to his master the art or war, the reason why it is started and the masses that are killed as a result of was and his master inquires how this is true due to the frailness of the human body.
Gulliver (correcting the immature conclusions of his Master) explains the different kinds of weaponry used to win War and as Gulliver explains this he says to himself “I could not forbear shaking my head and a smile a little at his ignorance” (P 214) But this ignorance is justified due to the simple fact that the Houyhnhnms have no concept of War. They only see this new stranger as a kind of advanced yahoo and fortifies their stance by saying that he (his master) “understood the nature of yahoo (humans in relation to the yahoos) might easily believe it possible for so vile an animal, to be capable of every action that Gulliver had named. (p. 215) This only made the view of the humans even worse then that of the Yahoos in which the Houyhnhnhms interacted with on a daily basis. Over the course of the first of months, Gulliver goes on to explain the other aspects of society such as the system of law and the constitution and his Master takes a great ear to his statements but becomes more and more confused as Gulliver explains his system of justice.
He goes on to explain in detail the excellent constitution that England lives under and explains to his Master that the role of the Chief Minister of State is that his main goal in his interactions with others that “he never tells a truth, but with an intent that you should take it for a lye; nor a lye, but with a design that you should take the statement for truth. ” P 223 He goes on to explain that if a person wants to obtain these titles, he must be skilled in insolence, lying and bribery.
In an effort to sure up and again compare Gulliver to the Yahoo’s, the Master explains to Gulliver that “the Yahoo’s were known to hate one another more then they did any different species of animals (P. 227) and that the Yahoo’s of Gulliver’s country exemplified them greatly. As the story goes on we can clearly see that Gulliver is beginning to change in terms of how he sees himself and his humanity. I think this first came to light when he began to realize how similar the human race is to that of the Yahoo race in the isolated island.
Gulliver comes to a boil in this passage “I express my uneasiness at having giving me so often the appellation of Yahoo, an odious animal, for which I had so utter an hatred and contempt. “(p. 205) The Yahoo was described as a dirty and nasty animal and an animal that could not survive as a humane creature and Gulliver detested that but in time grew to accept that this was the race that he did belong to and did not want to associate himself with.
As Gulliver and his Master talk more and more, he comes to the horrible conclusion that as Gulliver states, ” He ought to have understood human nature much better than I supposed it possible for my Master to do, so it was easy to apply the character he gave of the yahoos to myself and my countrymen; and I believed I could yet make farther discoveries from my own observations. ” (P. 231) This is where I believe Gulliver gives real definition to his own species and how they really did in fact characterize the yahoos and this gave him more reason to disassociate himself with his countryman.
In the story I notice a bit of fighting within Gulliver as to the true abilities of the yahoo of the distant land that he tries to interact with the yahoo to find out if they do resemble human kind and to his demise they did. He came to the conclusion that “By what I could discover, the Yahoos appear to be the most untouchable of all animals, their capacities never to reaching higher then to draw or carry burthens. ” P. 232 He also observes that they are cunning, malicious, treacherous and revengeful.
These are all of the virtues that humans carry and Houyhnhnms do not but again the humans claim that they have reason. Gulliver finally comes out and says that he does in fact believe that he is a “real yahoo” and that he could no longer go on to deny his real identity. As the teachings over Gulliver towards his mater goes on his Master begins to laugh at him saying that “a creature pretending to reason, should value itself upon the knowledge of other peoples conjectures and in things were that knowledge if it were certain could be of no use. The Master continued to see holes and faults in the “reasoning” of the faraway Yahoos and Gulliver continued his feelings of bitterness towards his own race. As Gulliver concludes his teachings on “his kind” and his Master gets a chance to explain the virtues of the Houyhnhnms by beginning with the statement that “Friendship and benevolence are the two principal virtues among the Houhnhnms; and those not confined to particular objects, but universal to the whole race. (P. 34) This is the whole foundation to the culture and this is what they stick by and never deviate from. I think that this is also the very same fact that intrigues Gulliver to begin to develop a love for the Houyhnhnms and an utter hatred for ALL yahoos. The Master goes on to explain how families are raised, how loved ones are disposed of when they pass, (never of disease) as well as how their society is ran. The children are raised to understand and practice temperance, industry, exercise, and cleanliness.
The Master also teaches Gulliver about their system of government and how it is referred to as the Representative Council that meets on the conditions of the race and how to remedy any problems that may arise. He also informs Gulliver that overall “the Houyhnhnms have no word in their language to express any thing that is evil, except what they borrow from the deformities or ill qualities of the yahoos” (P. 240) As the five years past that Gulliver is on the island and living in the company of the Houyhnhnms, he transforms his thought concept and overall way of viewing life.
Gulliver describes his live as “enjoying health of body, and tranquility of mind; I did not feel the treachery or inconsistency of a friend, nor the injuries of a secret or open enemy. (p. 241) He also goes on to say that there was no kind or person to destroy or ruin his fortune in his presence. Now we must remember that the Houyhnhnms view the yahoo’s as a savage creature and have placed Gulliver in this category. Even though they do not treat him as one, they do view him as one based on all of the information that was provided to them by Gulliver and reaffirmed by their experiences with the native yahoo.
How could Gulliver feel the way he feels in this society? The only conclusion I can come to be that he is truly in the presence of a great society that does not judge but draws conclusions based on factual information. They know his race but gives Gulliver that opportunity to express himself and judges him basis his actions and not the actions of his fellow yahoos. These actions can clearly be labeled as a society of friendship and benevolence. The history that Gulliver tells his Master is of total difference as to how they interact with a new species.
The humans (Yahoos) kill and enslave the weak and those to which they do not know but the Houyhnhnms embraced Gulliver and learned all they could from him and taught them all they could about themselves, their culture and overall way of living. They did not enslave or kill him nor did they ever conspire to do so. They did not do this even as he explained to him that their kind (horses) where used to till land, transport yahoos from one place to another and were even castrated. How can a person or species be so open minded and giving to a person who has treated “their kind” with such disgrace?
This also was very influential in shaping Gulliver’s mind as to how he viewed his family and friends that he left behind. In a chapter Gulliver states ” when I thought of my family, my friends, my countryman, or human race in general, I considered them as they really were, yahoos in shape and disposition, perhaps a little more civilized, and qualified with the gift of speech; but making no other use of reason then to improve and multiply those vices. (p. 243) More and more Gulliver comes to the conclusion that he despises ALL of which he comes from and vows not to fall into the same evils again.
There is a time when Gulliver looked at his reflection in the lake and turned away in horror at what he saw. As he immersed himself in the culture of the Houyhnhnms, he looked up at them with delight and he tried to imitate their every move to be more like them and to take on their character and style in every way he could and the friends that he developed within the community had even told him that trotted like a horse. I think that this is where he began to make his final transformation from Yahoo to Houyhnhnm.
I think the most devastating act by the Houyhnhnms took place when there was a discussion by the Grand Assemblies to “exterminate the yahoos from the face of the Earth. ” I think that by Gulliver explaining in great detail the system of government and the ways the more advanced yahoos went about plundering and killing innocent cultures gave even more validity to the decision by the Assembly to even consider the proposal but strangely they were not considering Gulliver for this fate only the yahoos that inhabited their land.
I think it could have been our of fear that the yahoos of their land could develop into the yahoos of Gulliver’s if given enough time to grow and develop. When I take a further look at the proposal I do not disagree with the position of the Houyhnhnms due to the simple fact that they have been told of a even greater threat then the threat posted to them by the foreign yahoos. Reason calls for the elimination of evil. And that fact still remains that “no normal person can disobey reason without giving up his claim to be a rational creature”(P. 245)
During the final days of Gulliver’s stay with the Houyhnhnms, he is told that he would have to leave the island by his Master at the “exhortation” of the assembly within his Masters neighborhood. He is told that he will be given assistant to build a vessel to take him to another island where he could live out his life. As Gulliver left the island, he knew that it was the right and just thing to do for he was acting like one of them but was not truly one of them. As he left the island, the Master and his family stayed on the beach as long as they could to waive him on and said good by.
It is interesting that throughout the Xth chapter Gulliver never talks about going back to his land or even to his family and children. The last five years have changed him so much that he cannot even think to go back to such a fate In moving from theory to reality, (in terms of how his experience affected his state of mind) I think Gulliver’s first experiences after leaving the island terrified him. From the savage people throwing a spear at him and wounding him in the leg to him being detained by Captain Mendez.
These events horrified Gulliver and gave him a taste of what life will be like upon returning to his home in which Captain Mendez assisted in going back to. We can clearly see Gulliver’s rejection to the norms of life amongst his native yahoos. This is expressed clearly in his interactions with the Captain and how he rejects the clothes of the Captain and insists on wearing the skins of rabbits and dried yahoo fabrics to display his contempt to return to the normal attire of his fellow yahoos.
The most breath taking of all is when he first confronts his wife and kids for the first time and how at “the sight of them only filled him with hatred, disgust and contempt. “(P. 253) You would ask yourself why a person would react that way to his wife and children with whom he has not seen in over 5 years. This is clearly due to the affect that the Houyhnhnms society has had on him. You would think that one would fight such feelings of disagreement but we must keep in mind that Gulliver has “seen the light” and cannot change the truths that have been cast upon him.
At the end of the story we can see Gulliver extending his mind just a little towards his wife and kid by letting them “sit at a dinner table with me”(P. 259) is he coming back to the realities of the modern yahoo? I think not. I just think he is trying to be a little more polite and empathetic to their needs. As Gulliver goes on with his life he becomes dedicated to real truth and justice and writes and speaks about it whenever he can. Maybe this is the best thing that could have ever happened to him and the world as a whole. In conclusion, we can ask ourselves the question one more time.
What is Gulliver’s Travels about? I think it is about finding the true meaning of life and understanding what good and evil really is. By taking a more simplified look at all things around us and asking ourselves if what we see truly exemplifies justice and purity. By looking around us and seeing if we practice completely the virtues of benevolence and friendship? If we truly understand and practice reason in all forms? If we truly do understand reason and practiced it we would not conspire to steal our neighbors land or overpower the weak.
The actions of war, rape, homosexuality, theft, bribery, greed and all other sorts of evil are not the ways of a species that practice and truly understand what reason is and how it relates to our humanity. We as humans would be clear and truly understand and practice just morality, ethics, and it would show in our modern day society. I also think that in writing Gulliver’s Travels, Swift has every right to make attacks on corruption of eighteenth century English society because writers of our modern day society make the same attacks on society today.
Swift makes it clear that these sorts of actions such as racism, humanism, and morality need to be addresses and dealt with. When it comes to modern day society, We see poets like Mia Angelo make the same type of attacks on society with regards to the days of segregation and slavery in the south. Clearly, there is a link in the way writers and poets of the past see society in relations to writers and poets of today. Swift gives us as readers the need to see society for what it is and understand how we interact with it and how much of an effect that it can have on use as individual.
In Gulliver’s journeys there was a complete changing of a man from his initial voyage to the end where he came home to greet his wife and child in which he never met. The coldness and lack of emotion clearly gives us a picture or how we can change as a result of witnessing utter acts of greed, betrayal and corruption as a result of coming to terms with who we as humans (yahoos) really are. But in all the madness we see characters like Captain Mendez and the virtues that he as a man exemplifies. We must ask ourselves, does this man represent a hope or example for all; a beacon of light in the darkness of this world?
I would tend to say yes. I think that the Houyhnhnm represents the Martin Luther Kings, and John F. Kennedy’s or our society past and present. The representation of people in the face of adversity and confusion as well as corruption tried to make peace and bring society as well as the world together as a whole. These men were present in times of great chaos in society and exemplified something that was necessary in today’s society. I also think that we should all aspire to grow and truly understand virtues and reason like Gulliver did and only then will our society be a better one.
The Houyhnhnms exemplify an ideal to which human beings should aspire although they can never reach it; to call attention to the monotony of their lives or the failure of their curiosity only relieves the reader’s participation in human depravity. ” (P241) I think that there is a deeper message to be retrieved from this passage. In relation to today’s society, I feel that it is very important for all people to develop a certain mentality about how we think as humans and our overall mindsets. This should be applied specifically to our moral and value systems as human beings.
I believe that the ideals and images that are portrayed by the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos are clearly exemplified in today’s modern day society. This is a clear attitude that distinguishes the just from the ujust. We must understand that our attitudes are not a state of mind but a reflection of our values. I do not see the Houyhnhnms as a bad species but a message to all others that there needs to be a certain way to which a person must think and act to experience a certain kind of success in life. There is a certain mind set that needs to be put forward about yourself before you can accomplish anything in life no matter what the odds.
We can either grow or learn or we can become the Houyhnhnm and practice virtues such as helping thy neighbor and doing good deeds or live the life of the Yahoo. It is my opinion that Swift does inform us of the harsh realities of life but he also makes us aware of the fact that we as individuals have roles that we must play in society and those roles are to make society a better place. Gulliver’s Travels also bring into question our way of reasoning as well as how we go about dealing and analyzing aspects of life as well as problems of greater society.
These are very relevant issues that need to be looked at. The book as a whole make me look at myself and bring my own morality to the table to discuss and analyze. This is very important if we want to grow to understand ourselves and life as a whole. There is a famous saying that in order not to make the same mistakes of the past we must know our history. I feel that Swift does an excellent job in making us come to terms with our past and how it can affect our future lives. He makes me see reality for what it is but also gives me motivation to either make the world a better place.
Through his writings he gives us a choice that I feel is vital and has the abilities to distinguishes his readers from good and evil, the just and unjust. This is a form of writing in relation to all societies that I have never seen before and I feel that it is vital for all to read Gulliver’s Travels so that they can look within themselves and see who they are as individuals. Overall, it is my opinion that Jonathan Swifts works on Gulliver’s Travels exemplifies a true literary masterpiece. It gives us a true description of society and how we as individuals interact with on another.
It tells us of our “corrupt lawyers, politicians, avaricious doctors, mass slaughters in wars over trivial pretexts-aspects of our experience as well as of Gulliver’s and reminders that this narrative Gulliver’s and his experiences implicates the reader in the moral problem of how to judge-and perhaps how to change-society. In all there is a lot to learn from these writing and tell us a lot about society and how we as individuals need to gain a better understanding our ourselves as well as society as a whole.