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Swift - Gulliver's Travels > Week 8: Part IV: Chapters 7-12

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message 1: by David (new)

David | 2590 comments Chapter 7
Gulliver’s opinion seems to turn to resolution here.
But I must freely confess, that the many virtues of those excellent quadrupeds, placed in opposite view to human corruptions, had so far opened my eyes and enlarged my understanding, that I began to view the actions and passions of man in a very different light, and to think the honour of my own kind not worth managing. . .I had likewise learned from his example an utter detestation of all falsehood or disguise; and truth appeared so amiable to me, that I determined upon sacrificing every thing to it. . .
. . . things. I had not been a year in this country before I contracted such a love and veneration for the inhabitants, that I entered on a firm resolution never to return to human kind. . .
The following passage reminds me of the excesses, or relishes, of the City of Pigs, (Republic II, 372c), and the troubles they would entail.
That we. . .had been very successful in multiplying our original wants, and seemed to spend our whole lives in vain endeavours to supply them by our own inventions.
Chapter 9
One of these grand assemblies. . .The question to be debated was, whether the Yahoos should be exterminated from the face of the earth.
The opening of this chapter and the grand assembly debating the genocide of the Yahoos, chillingly puts me in mind of the Wannsee Conference.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wannsee...


message 2: by David (new)

David | 2590 comments Chapter 10
Gulliver’s use of Yahoo skins strikes me as awkward at best, especially the younger ones for sails.

He finally turns the corner here:
When I thought of my family, my friends, my countrymen, or human race in general, I considered them as they really were, Yahoos in shape and disposition, only a little more civilized, and qualified with the gift of speech, but making no other use of reason than to improve and multiply those vices, whereof their brethren in his country had only the share that nature allotted them.
and the misanthropic madness begins
When I happened to behold the reflection of my own form in a lake or fountain, I turned away my face in horror and detestation of myself, and could better endure the sight of a common Yahoo, than of my own person.
For me, this is the most profound, and sad, quote in the book.
. . .[The Houyhnhnms] have no conception how a rational creature can be compelled, but only advised or exhorted, because no person can disobey reason, without giving up his claim to be a rational creature.
Chapter 11
Gulliver, failing to convince the captain to drop him off on a solitary island must accept:
command in my own house, and pass my time in a manner as recluse as I pleased.
And so, with a few horses to keep him company and talk with he retires. Except. . .

Chapter 12
In the final chapter I realized that Gulliver has been treating his readers as rational creatures in the manner of the Houyhnhnms, not compelling us, but exhorting us to avoid pride in the follies of our human condition and strive to improve them.


message 3: by Donnally (new)

Donnally Miller | 64 comments I think there are many levels of irony here. I think it was Gulliver, not Swift, who admired the Houyhnhnms. These children of Reason are cold, uninteresting and condescending -- indifferent to the lives of their children or the deaths of their spouses. They have limited vocabularies and limited imaginations. David also points out this passage from chapter 9:

"One of these grand assemblies. . .The question to be debated was, whether the Yahoos should be exterminated from the face of the earth.
The opening of this chapter and the grand assembly debating the genocide of the Yahoos, chillingly puts me in mind of the Wannsee Conference."

More to the point than the Wannsee Conference was the treatment of the American natives by the European colonists.
In the third book, Swift showed us what humans who tried to live purely according to reason were like: they were buffoonish failures. In the culture of the Houyhnhnms, he shows us what they would have been like if they could have succeeded. Swift is presenting us with a warning: this, he says, is what Utopia would be like if it were governed by pure reason: a close thing to death. The Yahoos may be horrible, but they are the oppressed, and they have more life and vitality than their oppressors. I've tossed around a few ideas about the Yahoos in the remarks I've made here, and I think I'm finally coming around to the idea they are what humans would inevitably become if forced to lived under the domination of creatures of pure Reason. Somewhat like what happened to the Indians.


message 4: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments Donnally wrote: "I've tossed around a few ideas about the Yahoos in the remarks I've made here, and I think I'm finally coming around to the idea they are what humans would inevitably become if forced to lived under the domination of creatures of pure Reason. Somewhat like what happened to the Indians..."

Would you mind clarifying what you mean here, Donnally? I don't understand the connections you're making.

For one thing, I don't see the European colonists as behaving "purely according to reason" in their treatment of American Indians. And while I agree the Yahoos and American Indians are/were oppressed, American Indians were nothing like the Yahoos because they had language and a very rich cultural heritage.

Perhaps I misunderstood the connections you're making?


message 5: by Donnally (new)

Donnally Miller | 64 comments It was probably a bad analogy.

I was thinking of what David said about the Wannsee Conference, and I knew Swift couldn't be commenting on that, but possibly he was commenting on the treatment of American natives, because he could see that taking place. I was trying to say that the Yahoos were what human beings, even those with a rich civilization, would devolve into if robbed of all their pretenses, and confronted with dominion by pure reason. I remarked that it might be close to what the Indians devolved into when confronted by the more advanced European civilization, but that wasn't an exact analogy.

Another question I keep revolving in my mind: why horses? Would another animal have worked as well? (bears, cows, pigs, lions, sheep, tigers)?


message 6: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments Donnally wrote: "It was probably a bad analogy.

I was thinking of what David said about the Wannsee Conference, and I knew Swift couldn't be commenting on that, but possibly he was commenting on the treatment of A..."


No worries! Thanks for the clarification.


message 7: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments Donnally wrote: "Another question I keep revolving in my mind: why horses? Would another animal have worked as well? (bears, cows, pigs, lions, sheep, tigers)?.."

My guess is because they were/are very visible in England. It was fairly common to see horses trotting alongside cars in towns and cities even when I was growing up. They were even more visible in Swift's time--far more so than cows, pigs, and sheep. You probably had to go to the countryside to see those. And maybe a zoo to see bears, lions, and tigers.

I think the only other animal that may have competed with horses as far as visibility is a dog. But horses have the benefit of stature, dignity, and height. Also, the "woofers" may have been a bridge too far--even for Swift.


message 8: by David (new)

David | 2590 comments Donnally wrote: "I think there are many levels of irony here. I think it was Gulliver, not Swift, who admired the Houyhnhnms. These children of Reason are cold, uninteresting and condescending -- indifferent to the..."

That is an interesting way of looking at it. It reminds me of the banter between Spock an Kirk's Vulcan logic vs. human emotional perspectives. Or to stick with the franchise and take it further, the Houyhnhnm are somewhat analogous to "The Borg".


message 9: by David (new)

David | 2590 comments Donnally wrote: "Another question I keep revolving in my mind: why horses? Would another animal have worked as well? (bears, cows, pigs, lions, sheep, tigers)?"

For me, imagining the other choices, horses seem to work best. For one thing they are a common domesticated animals, that humans have employed and kept in a manner most similar to how the Houyhnhnm employed and kept the Yahoos. Horses also posses an air of nobility that other domesticated animals don't have that make them seem better candidates for running such an exemplary rational and virtuous nation.

Now I am reminded of this excerpt from Song of Myself, 32 by Walt Whitman
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth. . .



message 10: by Mike (new)

Mike Harris | 60 comments If I read the last chapter correctly, it is the Gulliver who has rejected humanity, the Yahoos, that has written the whole book?


message 11: by David (new)

David | 2590 comments Mike wrote: "If I read the last chapter correctly, it is the Gulliver who has rejected humanity, the Yahoos, that has written the whole book?"

I agree, it seems the now well traveled Gulliver has emerged from his reclusive state enough to write a book exhorting his readers to realize that we are not as great as we think we are so we should avoid his own mistake of the foolish pride in thinking we are.

Also, recall the hoped for reformations expressed in the opening letter; how well do you think he did?
1. Party and faction were extinguished.
2. Judges learned and upright.
3. Pleaders honest and modest, with some tincture of common sense, and Smithfieldd blazing with pyramids of law books.
4. The young nobility’s education entirely changed.
5. The physicians banished.
6. The female Yahoos abounding in virtue, honour, truth, and good sense.
7. Courts and levees of great ministers thoroughly weeded and swept.
8. Wit, merit, and learning rewarded.
9. All disgracers of the press in prose and verse condemned to eat nothing but their own cotton, and quench their thirst with their own ink.
10. These, and a thousand other reformations, I firmly counted upon by your encouragement; as indeed they were plainly deducible from the precepts delivered in my book.


Where did he make the case to banish physicians?


message 12: by David (last edited Sep 12, 2020 07:38AM) (new)

David | 2590 comments Is Houyhnhnm Land the utopia that Gulliver makes it out to be?

If you were using Gulliver's Travels as a vacation planner, other than Glubdrubdrib, what single place would you visit? Is there anyplace you would be willing to permanently locate to; why or why not?


message 13: by Donnally (new)

Donnally Miller | 64 comments Of course they had to be horses. I think I was blinded by the current ubiquity of the internal combustion engine even to wonder why. In Swift's day horses were everywhere. 18th century civilization could not have existed without horses to do so much of the dirty work that is done by machines today. If you wanted to go anywhere overland you needed horses to take you there. Either that, or walking. Anything heavy had to be hauled by horses. It would have been natural for Swift's imagination to turn the tables and make the horses the master and in so doing make the point that they could exist perfectly well without humans.


message 14: by Lily (last edited Sep 12, 2020 12:12PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments Donnally wrote: "Of course they had to be horses. I think I was blinded by the current ubiquity of the internal combustion engine even to wonder why. In Swift's day horses were everywhere. 18th century civilization..."

You hit on a point I always find so salient when reading Tolstoy! He doesn't make a point of it, but horses are everywhere -- their noise silenced by straw on the streets before the dying in W&P, taking merry makers in sleighs across the vast plains to distant neighboring abodes, luckless horse racing, horses and their riders struck down in battle, horses perhaps even contrasting with the train under which AK casts herself. But horses pervade literature up until the twentieth century. Donnally, thanks for bringing their relevance in GT to our attention!

(And thank you for all you have brought to this discussion of GT. Frankly, even with delightful Asimov and an Audible edition, I've gotten "stuck.")

(But you can delete the two superfluous entries Goodreads or whatever appears to have generated !?)


message 15: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments David wrote: "Is Houyhnhnm Land the utopia that Gulliver makes it out to be?. . . Is there any place you would be willing to permanently locate to; why or why not?.."

Great questions. I’ve been thinking about this for the last few days.

On the one hand, Houyhnhnm Land does sound wonderful. Everything is orderly and regulated. There is no strife, no struggle, no disease, no war. Each horse knows his/her place and obligation and performs it willingly for the greater good. There is peace and harmony. No extremes of any kind. Even the death of a loved one doesn’t seem to bother them. They take everything in stride with equanimity. Sounds ideal.

On the other hand, it sounds frightfully boring. In the absence of struggle and strife, can there be any growth? In the absence of diversity, how are we going to step outside the confines of our own minds if we are unable to view life through a different set of lenses? If we all thought the same, experienced life in the same way, agreed on everything, wouldn’t it make for a dull world? Houyhnhnm Land is a world without passion, without struggle, without diversity. Personally, I think I would be bored to tears.

Give me Yahoodom with its greed and pride and strife and dissent and struggle and lies and sickness and discrimination. At least here we have something to work for, to improve upon, something worthy of struggle. Give me Yahoodom where we are at least inching toward a better world for everyone.

I might consider the occasional vacation on Houyhnhnm Land to re-charge my batteries. But this is one Yahoo who prefers to live in Yahoodom. This is one Yahoo who believes the struggle to make this a better world is what life is all about.


message 16: by Donnally (new)

Donnally Miller | 64 comments Lily wrote: "You hit on a point I always find so salient when reading Tolstoy!"

Thank you for this. You made me conscious of the fact that I've noticed the same thing in Tolstoy. He's always alert to the horses that are doing the work, noting for instance the trace horses pulling a carriage and their tendency to tire or pull to the side, things such as that that make a modern reader aware of the importance of horses to the culture of the time. So many Tolstoy characters are interested in horses or are buying horses or looking at them.


message 17: by David (new)

David | 2590 comments Tamara wrote: "Give me Yahoodom with its greed and pride and strife and dissent and struggle and lies and sickness and discrimination."

Is that pride in yahoodom I am detecting? Isn't that the major gripe Gulliver has with it in the end?
My reconcilement to the Yahoo-kind in general might not be so difficult, if they would be content with those vices and follies only which nature hath entitled them to. . .this is all according to the due course of things; but when I behold a lump of deformity and diseases both in body and mind, smitten with pride, it immediately breaks all the measures of my patience; neither shall I be ever able to comprehend how such an animal and such a vice could tally together.



message 18: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments David wrote: "Is that pride in yahoodom I am detecting? Isn't that the major gripe Gulliver has with it in the end?

Not pride in Yahoodom, but a recognition that excessive pride is a problem that needs to be addressed just as do all the other problems in Yahoodom.

Swift attacks Yahoo pride throughout the novel. I think that is one of the major themes. He takes every opportunity to tell us we have nothing to be proud of in the way we conduct ourselves, our appearance, our institutions, etc.

The irony is that Gulliver suffers from excessive pride by the end of the novel. He places himself above Yahoos. He can barely tolerate their presence in the same room, trots about like a horse, and prefers to spend hours talking to his horse than to his own family. He does all he can to distance himself from Yahoos. He struts about with his nose in the air—a nose he stuffs with lavender or whatever because he can’t stand the stench of Yahoos. He exhibits excessive pride.

I see Swift as turning Gulliver into a ridiculous figure at the end. I see Swift as saying distancing yourself from other Yahoos is no solution. Thinking you are better than other Yahoos is no solution. Yes, Yahoos suffer from pride, corrupt institutions, disease, greed, poverty, etc. etc. And, yes, there is much work to be done to correct the ills in ourselves and in our institutions. But we can’t turn our backs on Yahoos as Gulliver has done. We can’t be aloof. We must engage. We must work together to improve life for everyone.

Swift has been accused of being a misanthrope. I don’t see him that way. The fact that he shines a glaring light on the ills in Yahoodom reflects a hope and belief that we are capable of change. I see him as saying we not only can do better, we must do better. He hasn’t given up hope on us—at least, not yet.


message 19: by David (new)

David | 2590 comments A big thank you to everyone who read along with us.

This is definitely not the Gulliver's Travel's fitting the notions of an adult with the arrested development of a 10 year old. Between this group's posts regarding the background and context of its content, as well as Asimov's interesting perspective on the book I have a much greater understanding and appreciation for it, even if I may not like all of Gulliver's faults as revealed in this full reading of the work.


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