Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Part 4, Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

Gulliver explains to his master the concept of money and how it is used to buy goods, how the men who have it are prone to greed, and how the poor labor for the benefit of the wealthy. He explains how, even though England can produce sufficient food and drink for its people, they engage in trade around the world to provide the variety of luxuries the wealthy demand.

Gulliver also explains disease, an unfamiliar concept to the Houyhnhnm. Gulliver associates sickness with overconsumption of food, drink, sex, or other physical desires. He describes how diseases are typically treated.

Lastly, Gulliver explains how the English government works. Ministers are selected for service based on their social connections, often through marriage. Sometimes they attain their positions by betraying their predecessors, and sometimes they are selected for service because of their support of a position or leader.

Analysis

The Houyhnhnm society has no concept of so many of the human world's ills. In the previous chapter, Gulliver's master had no concept of war and did not understand how laws could be used to commit injustice. Here he does not understand what money is, which means he does not understand class in the same way Gulliver does. The Houyhnhnms are free of disease. They also lack a governmental structure of ministers and monarchs, so they lack a concept of corruption. These factors make the world of the Houyhnhnms seem like a utopia, a fully ideal society with minimal inequality and suffering.

In the human world, all inequality and suffering is rooted in wealth. For the poor, deprivation often forces them into lives of crime or in servitude to the rich. Gulliver emphasizes how humans bring much of their sickness upon themselves as they consume the trappings of wealth. In government, ministers are more concerned with personal wealth and status than they are with the public good. History has shown that these problems are ingrained into most human societies and have little connection to time or location.

Although the Houyhnhmn society does lack many of the flaws that plague European society, the Houyhnhnms' reliance on pure reason is not without its own drawbacks. Houyhnhnm society adheres to principles of friendship and benevolence, but these principles replace the deeper emotional connections of familial and romantic love that can create problems but also make life interesting and meaningful. The Houyhnhnms are conservative in their consumption, but they do not experience the joys of celebration and feasting. On a darker level, the Houyhnhnms' adherence to friendship and benevolence are principles reserved for only their own society. They lack any level of compassion or kindness for other beings, notably the Yahoos, and treat other societies as unworthy of serious attention and as essentially hopeless causes incapable of change or improvement.

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