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Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Part 4, Chapter 3

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 4, Chapter 3 of Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels.

Gulliver's Travels | Part 4, Chapter 3 | Summary



After a few weeks of study, Gulliver gains a functional knowledge of the Houyhnhnm language. All members of his master's family engage in teaching Gulliver because the master is eager to learn more about Gulliver's history. He asks Gulliver many questions, and Gulliver is able to explain in very general terms about his ship and the mutiny. He is able to tell the Houyhnhnm a little about his country.

The Houyhnhnm master believes Gulliver is indeed a Yahoo, but he is perplexed by Gulliver's ability to speak, reason, and learn. Gulliver takes care never to be seen without his clothing to distinguish himself from the other Yahoos, but eventually he reveals his secret to his master, who has already seen Gulliver unclothed while sleeping. The master decides Gulliver is a Yahoo, but Gulliver does not want to be lumped in with this species he finds "odious."


Even though Gulliver's Houyhnhnm master decides Gulliver is definitely a Yahoo, the trappings of Gulliver's civilized life protect him from the harsh judgment of the Houyhnhnms. Yes, he is a Yahoo, but he is a different breed of Yahoo, one who can learn languages, think critically, and tell his story. Gulliver does not only learn; he learns quickly. Once Gulliver is able to describe his origins, he is able to explain that his race of Yahoos run entire continents, which further assists in building goodwill with the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver's disgust at the Yahoos on the island shows his preference for the trappings of civilization, even if it is not a civilization in which he fits entirely; it also shows how easy it is for humans to reject and feel superior to other humans who look different and act differently, which was an important feature of colonial thought. Even though Gulliver and the Yahoos appear to be the same species, Gulliver has less in common with them than with any group he has met in all of his travels.

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