Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gulliver's Travels Read-Along Part Four: A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms.

Well, we have come to the end of our time with Gulliver. I know that I have enjoyed my re-read of Swift's work, and I have certainly enjoyed the thoughts of all of the participants in this read-along.

If you are interested in seeing our thoughts on the other sections, here are the links for you:
This last section of the novel is where Swift really drives home his satire, and makes it a point of showing his readers some of the faults that he finds in society.

Gulliver is again too antsy for his own good and travels by sea. This time there is a mutiny and he is ultimately abandoned to a boat and set to drift towards an island. Upon landing, he immediately sees creatures similar to himself, but much dirtier and covered in hair. Thinking they are human or native, he cries out, only to be swarmed by them. Luckily, a large horse comes to his rescue. Gulliver eventually realizes that in this land, the horses or Houyhnhnms, are in charge. The people-like figures he saw are to the Houyhnhnms what horses are to the English. The people figures are called Yahoos.

Gulliver begins to befriend the Houyhnhnms and become acquainted with their customs and beliefs. They are wary of him at first and consider him a Yahoo, but they eventually realize he is capable of thought and reason.

One of the reasons I really enjoy this part of the book is that it is much more fantastical than any of the others. This is the first time that the race is not humanoid that Gulliver comes into contact with. It probably took the reader in 1735 (when this was first published) a lot of effort to see the horses as a legit race of people. For that, I have to commend Swift. He has allowed his story and the thoughts of Gulliver to come out in a much more significant way than if the land of the Houyhnhnms had been another human-like race.

Anyway, while Gulliver is with these people, we see a lot of change in him and how he views his own society. The Houyhnhnms don't have a large amount of emotion or attachment. When they pick a partner, they think of it logically. If a couple loses a child, another couple with two of the same sex can "donate" their child to fill the void. It is an odd society.

It is also a society without lies. The Houyhnhnm in charge of Gulliver often accuses him of telling "the thing that is not" when Gulliver explains his travels. Honesty and loyalty are high virtues in their society. You can see that Gulliver begins to be influenced in this section, and certainly he rags on certain professions (mainly lawyers) for the things they do,
"I said there was a Society of Men amoung us, bred up from their Youth in the Art of proving by Words multiplied for the Purpose, that White is Black, and Black is White, according as they are paid. To this Society all the rest of the people are Slaves," (241).

Gulliver eventually becomes so in tune with the wisdom of the Houyhnhnms that when he returns home, he cannot stand human society any longer and spends hours talking to his own horses. Essentially, his adventures have finally driven him over the edge.

When I read this section before, it was definitely the most profound. Swift is making large efforts to point out the faults in English society, as he does in all of the sections and voyages. But here, Swift really drives home his point that all society is not perfect, and while we may wish that things were different and done differently to some other extreme, there will always be something lacking. There has to be a limit. Too much knowledge can be detrimental to the lower classes. No emotion can lead to a boring existence. Being prone to war can drive people away. And exploitation of oddities can hurt those who are different.

In sum, society must find a balance between everything. Too much progress can be harmful, just as staying still can be harmful as well.

For me, this re-read was a lot of fun. This is a novel that was way ahead of its time and it was great to be reminded of why I loved it so much. I hope that those of you who made it to the end felt the same way!

If you have your post up, please comment here with a link so that I may put a link in on this post. Check back throughout the day to visit other bloggers to see their thoughts about dear old Gulliver and his travels to other places!

My Mom's Post


  1. It looks like we had a lot of the same opinions about this section. It's all about balance. I agree that this section is fun because it is more fatastical. I think it came out in 1726 though, not 1735. Apparently there was an edition with a few changes made that came out in 1735, but the original came out in 1726. You're probably reading an edition based on the 1735 text.

  2. hey, i loved this part
    here is my post

  3. Great summary, Allie. I'm sorry to all that I fell so far behind in this read-along, but I want to thank you, Allie, for organizing it.

    I think part IV was my favorite of all the parts, as it finally "converts" Gulliver over to the realization that his country - and the human race - is not all it's cracked up to be, or all it could or should be.

    I finally put up some posts on Gulliver on my blog today over at

    Thanks again, Allie!