Gulliver\'s Travels - Gulliver in Houynhnmland


Travels - Gulliver in Houynhnmland

One of the most interesting questions about

Gullivers Travels is whether the Houyhnhnms represent an ideal of rationality
or whether on the other hand they are the butt of Swift\'s satire. In other
words, in Book IV, is Swift poking fun at the talking horses or does he
intend for us to take them seriously as the proper way to act? If we look
closely at the way that the Houyhnhnms act, we can see that in fact Swift
does not take them seriously: he uses them to show the dangers of pride.

First we have to see that Swift does not
even take Gullver seriously. For instance, his name sounds much like gullible,
which suggests that he will believe anything. Also, when he first sees
the Yahoos and they throw excrement on him, he responds by doing the same
in return until they run away. He says, "I must needs discover some more
rational being," (203) even though as a human he is already the most rational
being there is. This is why Swift refers to Erasmus Darwins discovery of
the origin of the species and the voyage of the Beagle-to show how Gulliver
knows that people are at the top of the food chain. But if Lemule Gulliver
is satirized, so are the Houyhnhnms, whose voices sound like the call of
castrati. They walk on two legs instead of four, and seem to be much like
people. As Gulliver says, "It was with the utmost astonishment that I witnessed
these creatures playing the flute and dancing a Vienese waltz. To my mind,
they seemed like the greatest humans ever seen in court, even more dextrous
than the Lord Edmund Burke" (162). As this quote demonstrates, Gulliver
is terribly impressed, but his admiration for the Houyhnhnms is short-lived
because they are so prideful. For instance, the leader of the Houyhnhnms
claims that he has read all the works of Charles Dickens, and that he can
singlehandedly recite the names of all the Kings and Queens of England
up to George II. Swift subtly shows that this Houyhnhnms pride is misplaced
when, in the middle of the intellectual competition, he forgets the name
of Queen Elizabeths husband.

Swifts satire of the Houyhnhnms comes out
in other ways as well. One of the most memorable scenes is when the dapple
grey mare attempts to woo the horse that Guenivre has brought with him
to the island. First she acts flirtatiously, parading around the bewildered
horse. But when this does not have the desired effect, she gets another
idea: "As I watched in amazement from my perch in the top of a tree, the
sorrel nag dashed off and returned with a yahoo on her back who was yet
more monstrous than Mr. Pope being fitted by a clothier. She dropped this
creature before my nag as if offering up a sacrifice. My horse sniffed
the creature and turned away." (145) It might seem that we should take
this scene seriously as a failed attempt at courtship, and that consequently
we should see the grey mare as an unrequited lover. But it makes more sense
if we see that Swift is being satiric here: it is the female Houyhnhnm
who makes the move, which would not have happened in eighteenth-century

England. The Houyhnhm is being prideful, and it is that pride that makes
him unable to impress Gullivers horse. Gulliver imagines the horse saying,

Sblood, the notion of creating the bare backed beast with an animal who
had held Mr. Pope on her back makes me queezy (198).

A final indication that the Houyhnmns are
not meant to be taken seriously occurs when the leader of the Houynhms
visits Lilliput, where he visits the French Royal Society. He goes into
a room in which a scientist is trying to turn wine into water (itself a
prideful act that refers to the marriage at Gallilee). The scientist has
been working hard at the experiment for many years without success, when
the Houyhnmn arrives and immediately knows that to do: "The creature no
sooner stepped through the doorway than he struck upon a plan. Slurping
up all the wine in sight, he quickly made water in a bucket that sat near
the door" (156).

He has accomplished the scientists goal,
but the scientist is not happy, for his livelihood has now been destroyed.

Swifts clear implication is that even though the Houyhnhmns are smart,
they do not know how to use that knowledge for the benefit