Gulliver’s Transformation in the Fourth Journey

In Book IV of Gulliver’s Travels, Swift presents a narrative that aims to continually change his audience’s opinion by offering an array of perpetually shifting standpoints. From the start of the journey we see the tale unfold in the same manner as Gulliver experiences it. On his first encounter with a Yahoo, Gulliver does not see any parallels between that beast and himself, and when he is approached by a Houyhnhnm, he does not think the creature is anything more than a horse. The tale takes a turn as Gulliver discovers the reality of this realm and readers are presented with his opinions on the Houyhnhnms, as well as the Yahoos. This journey does not boast much plot action, but rather, renders interactions and conversations between Gulliver and the inhabitants of this strange land, mostly the Houyhnhnms. From these exchanges, Gulliver yields admiration towards the Houyhnhnms and abhorrence for the beastly Yahoos. His observations first seem agreeable as the two species seem to depict opposing values of what is and what is not the desirable way to live. However, as Gulliver’s observation causes him to undergo change, becoming shameful of his similarity to the Yahoos and imitating Houyhnhnm gestures, the reader cannot help but question his judgments.Chapter XI stands out as a section that best explores the absurdity of Gulliver’s transformation. Gulliver’s radical change revealed in this section not only portrays him as comical but also repulsively delusional. Whereas in previous chapters and especially in the very beginning of this tale, Gulliver believed himself and mankind to be of a different species than the Yahoos, he now detests the thought of returning to his home and dwelling among, not humans, but Yahoos. Gulliver even calls himself a “poor Yahoo” (300) when confronted by the Portuguese sailors. If man is Yahoo, then the notion of Gulliver mending his shoes with “skins of Yahoos dried in the sun” (289) and building his canoe with the same material is quite sickening. Gulliver’s equating man with Yahoos is illogical since his very being and presence throughout the tale suggests that man is different from Yahoos.This is not solely Gulliver’s error but also one the reasonable Houyhnhms make, who, if not referring to man as Yahoo, mark man as a worst and inferior type of Yahoo. It seems rather odd that the highly rational horses have trouble distinguishing Gulliver from the Yahoos and are able to differentiate themselves from the asses they wish to cultivate (283). Surely the Houyhnhnms cannot be as wise and praiseworthy as Gulliver describes them.Not only is Gulliver’s devotion to the Houyhnhnms questionable, but the Houyhnhnms and the values they represent become uncertain as well. At the beginning, in comparison to humans, the Houyhnhnms appear superior because they are truthful and live their lives rationally, and when Gulliver makes harsh statements about European society his comments are, for the most part, fair. However, as the system of Houyhnhnm life is revealed, they are depicted as dull and passionless. “Courtship, love, presents, jointures, settlements have no place in their thoughts,” and marriage is “one of the necessary actions of a rational being” (281). They are also just as unfeeling about death, for “their friends and relations express neither joy nor grief at their departure” (287). Even more shocking is their “regulation of children.” For instance, “if a Houyhnhnm hath two males, he changeth one of them with another that hath two females; and when a child hath been lost by any casualty, where the mother past breeding, it is determined what family in the district shall breed another to supply the loss” (282). Their inability to feel affection and attachment for even their own offspring is immensely unattractive and proves that Swift did not mean to equate the Houyhnhms as ideal. Oddly enough, the only Houyhnhnm that possessed any sign of compassion is the sorrel nag, a lowly servant who cries out as Gulliver departs their land, “take care of thyself, gentle Yahoo” (297).Greatly affected by Houyhnhnm values, Gulliver undergoes assimilation into human society in Chapter XI, and the result is sometimes comical, but mostly irritating. He is amusing as the Portuguese sailors laugh at his “strange tone in speaking, which resembled the neighing of a horse” (300). However, it is not comical but rather annoying when Gulliver exclaims, “I never heard or saw anything so unnatural; for it appeared to me as monstrous as if a dog or cow should speak in England, or a Yahoo in Houyhnhnm-land,” at the sight of seeing the sailors speak. Has three years of living among the Houyhnhnms changed Gulliver so drastically that he would think it “unnatural” for humans to speak? Beyond that, these three years have resulted in Gulliver not only re-identifying himself as a Yahoo, but also, all of mankind.Whereas in previous chapters Gulliver’s overbearing veneration for the Houyhnhnms is aggravating, in this chapter, his hatred toward humans is repulsive. Once banished from Houyhnhnm-land, Gulliver wishes to live in solitude and not return “to live in the society under the government of Yahoos” (297). When he is discovered by the Portuguese sailors, he begs for his freedom, explaining to them that he is “a poor Yahoo, seeking some desolate place where to pass the remainder of his unfortunate life “(300). Once on the ship, he even attempts to jump overboard and swim for his life “rather than continue among Yahoos” (301).Gulliver’s loathing towards humans is unjustified in this chapter, and his interchange with Don Pedro de Mendez depicts his unsound judgments. Gulliver describes Don Pedro as generous and gracious. However, like the uncompassionate Houyhnhnms, his best effort in returning kindness is to “treat him [Don Pedro] like an animal which had some little portion of reason” (301). As time passes on this voyage, Gulliver states, “in gratitude to the Captain I sometimes sat with him at his earnest request, and strove to conceal my antipathy to human kind” (302).Gulliver’s obsession of bodily odor is also silly as he is “ready to faint at the very smell of” the Captain and his crew during the voyage (301). This silly fixation on the body blinds him from acknowledging Don Pedro’s kindness on many occasions. Gulliver recounts, for instance, “the Captain had often entreated me to strip myself of my savage dress, and offered to lend me the best suit of clothes he had. This I would not be prevailed on to accept abhorring to cover myself with anything that had been on the back of a Yahoo” (302). In another instance, as they arrive in Lisbon, Gulliver states, “The Captain persuaded me to accept a suit of clothes newly made; but I would not suffer the tailor to take my measure…He accoutred me with other necessaries all new, which I aired for twenty-four hours before I would use them” (303). After what seems like a long ordeal, Don Pedro persuades Gulliver to take a walk in the streets; however, in order to do this, Gulliver must stuff his nose with rue or tobacco (303). Once he returns to England, he purchases some horses and explains that he favors the groom for the smells it produces in the stable (304).Gulliver, while forced into rejoining humanity, has nevertheless mentally and emotionally exiled himself from society. As he gradually works his way from the innermost rooms of Don Pedro’s house to the streets of Lisbon, his fear of man lessens, but his “hatred and contempt seemed to increase” (303). He only resolves to go home to his wife and family because Don Pedro convinces him that “it was altogether impossible to find such a solitary island” (303). Although Gulliver’s inability to appreciate Don Pedro is appalling, his reaction upon seeing his family is far worse as he recounts “my wife and family received me with great surprise and joy… but I must freely confess the sight of them filled me only with hatred, disgust, and contempt” (304).Gulliver’s attachment to the Houyhnhnms might not seem so ludicrous if he were capable of seeing the positive in human society such as Don Pedro and his own family. However, he is unable to experience or feel anything pleasant, and this makes both himself and the Houyhnhnms ambiguous, if not loathsome, figures to the readers. Like the Houyhnhnms who fail to see the difference between Gulliver and the filthy Yahoos, Gulliver loses sight of everything agreeable in humanity.The events of Chapter XI not only change the readers’ perception of both Gulliver and the rational horses, but also change the message Swift makes through his satire. It seems as though Swift had meant to tell his readers that life based on reason is ideal, commenting on appalling human practices such as war and the courts of Europe. However, by the end of the tale, life based on rationality seems inadequate as it is the cause of Gulliver’s isolation.Works CitedSwift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. New York: Signet Classic, 1999.

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