Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Part 4, Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

Gulliver spends time among the Yahoos to learn more about them. During these visits, Gulliver reveals his physical similarities to the Yahoos but still brings along one of the master's servants, a sorrel nag, for protection. The Yahoos tend to be hostile toward Gulliver, but he does learn that they are physically agile. He believes their unwillingness to learn stems from a disposition toward resistance rather than intellectual defect. He finally accepts his own status as a Yahoo when a young female accosts him while he is bathing in a river. The nag rescues him from the Yahoo woman's clutches.

Gulliver admires how the Houyhnhnms are governed entirely by reason. As a result, they have few arguments or sentimental attachments. They treat one another with "friendship and benevolence," even when encountering strangers of their kind. Marriages are arranged to produce well-balanced offspring, and upper-class couples limit their breeding to two offspring. The lower classes are allowed three children. They treat all children equally, with no parent displaying a special attachment to their own progeny. Male and female children receive equal education, and they celebrate their physical accomplishments in athletic events four times a year.

Analysis

Gulliver's experiences with the Yahoos do nothing to improve his opinion of them. He recognizes that they have more intelligence than they have been credited with, but they use whatever cunning they have for negative ends. Although Gulliver has worked to bring himself into the same mindset as the Houyhnhnm, his body remains as it has always been and betrays him as a Yahoo. After the incident with the Yahoo woman in the river, Gulliver comes to terms with the fact that if this woman deemed him suitable for possible mating, he must be a Yahoo—in body, at any rate. Yet in his mind, Gulliver continues to identify with the Houyhnhnms and praise their culture. Their reliance on pure reason makes them even more ideal in Gulliver's mind, as every part of their society is orderly and rational. Inequality is minimal, although they do have a divide between the upper classes and the serving classes. At the same time, Houyhnhnms take care of one another, even replacing offspring for couples who lose a child after they have passed childbearing age. They celebrate the body and the mind in equal measure, and because they have mastered their physical impulses, mating only to produce the offspring that everyone cares for, female Houyhnhnms enjoy a place of equality in education that Gulliver has never seen before.

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