Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Part 4, Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

When Gulliver commences his voyage, he plans to find an island where he can survive in solitude rather than return to the Yahoos of Europe. He calculates that he is near the Cape of Good Hope. He lands on an uninhabited shore in New Holland (modern South Africa) but encounters natives on his third day in this spot. He hastily retreats in his boat. While he searches for a new place to land, he encounters a Portuguese ship. Some crewmen board Gulliver's boat and find him hiding from them. They are confused by Gulliver's use of the Houyhnhnm language and his clothing of animal skins from the island. Gulliver explains his circumstances to them in Portuguese. The crewmen offer to take Gulliver to the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, and Gulliver agrees, fearing they will take him by force. They tie him up anyway and take him to their captain. The captain feeds Gulliver and gives him a cabin where he is restrained after a crewman catches him trying to jump overboard.

The captain questions Gulliver about his escape attempt, and Gulliver gives a short account of his story. Eventually the captain accepts Gulliver's honesty and releases him on the condition that he will not try to harm himself again. After they arrive in Lisbon, the captain convinces Gulliver to return to his family in England. Gulliver's wife and children greet him warmly, but he has little tolerance for them and prefers the company of his horses.

Analysis

Gulliver's self-loathing as a Yahoo continues, even after the Houyhnhnms have expelled him from their island. Such is his conviction in their superiority that he cannot reproach them for sending him away, nor does he consider that this type of treatment may have made the island's Yahoos behave as they do. Gulliver has no desire to live among the more civilized Yahoos of Europe, because he has become convinced that their civilized ways are feeble attempts to cover up their barbaric Yahoo behavior. He is so settled in this conviction not to return home that he attempts to leap from the Portuguese rescue ship and make an attempt to swim for an island that may or may not exist—or die trying.

The Portuguese crew's treatment of Gulliver does little to help his opinions of Yahoos when they restrain him, but they do this for Gulliver's protection. The kindness of the captain has some effect on Gulliver when he is convinced to return to his family. Yet even when Gulliver is reunited with his wife and children, he carries the Houyhnhnm prejudice against Yahoos with him, essentially rejecting his family. Ironically, this rejection stands in direct contrast to the Houyhnhnm ideal of taking care of one's own kind, and reflects the lack of compassion and mercy that the Houyhnhnms display when rejecting Gulliver. On the other hand, the Portuguese crew exhibits this ideal of caring for others when they help Gulliver get back to Europe; he might just as easily have died at sea seeking an island that did not exist.

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