Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Part 4, Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

In the gray horse's house, Gulliver is introduced to additional members of his host's family along with his servants—all horses known as Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnm master also has three of the creatures that tried to attack Gulliver—Yahoos—restrained on his property. Later Gulliver sees that the Yahoos are used for manual labor, such as pulling sledges. Gulliver gets a better look at the Yahoos and fears the horses may think he is a Yahoo as well because of their close physical resemblance.

The Houyhnhnm offers Gulliver some food, but he is unable to stomach either the roots the Houyhnhnm eat or the rancid meat that sustains the captive Yahoos. Gulliver does find that the Houyhnhnm keep cows for milk, and at dinner he devises a way to make a cake out of oats, which becomes his dietary staple during the three years he spends among the Houyhnhnms.

Analysis

Gulliver realizes he wants to be closely associated with the civilized Houyhnhnms, not the Yahoos, and he fears how his own biology works against him to this end. At this early stage, association with the Yahoos could mean he will be relegated to a life of labor and servitude among these repellent hairy creatures who, in Gulliver's opinion, only marginally resemble him. The trappings of Gulliver's own civilization, his clothing and his ability to speak languages, are his only protection, especially since the Houyhnhnms do not yet understand that the clothing is not part of Gulliver's body. There is an important point here about the very frail distinction between being "civilized," as Europeans believed they were, and "savage"—which often meant anyone other than a European. Gulliver's other advantage is his refusal to eat as the Yahoos do and adopting an oat-based diet, which represents Gulliver's first real step toward integration into Houyhnhnm society.

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