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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
Swift again uses both Gulliver and the Houyhnhnm to reinforce his criticisms of English life. The getting and spending of money, says Gulliver, forces people to beg, rob, steal, cheat, pimp, flatter, gamble, hector, and whore. He talks of the absurdities of importing and exporting, sending away necessities such as agricultural products and bringing in luxuries. A female Yahoo can't get her breakfast without someone having circled the world three times for the tea she drinks and the china cup she drinks it from. Considered in this light, importing and exporting do seem a little silly.
Gulliver must go to great pains to explain these things to his master, for there are no comparable words in the Houyhnhnm language for the "professional activities" mentioned above, or for disease. (Houyhnhnms feel a heaviness before they die and then peacefully pass away; there's no such thing as sickness.) Yahoos, says Gulliver, are the only animals to have imaginary diseases (by which he means hypochondriasis and psychosomatic symptoms), and doctors who deal in imaginary cures.
Gulliver next describes English politics. A head of state, says Gulliver,
is "exempt from joy and grief, love and hatred, pity and anger; at
least [makes] use of no other passions but a violent desire of wealth,
power, and titles...." He never tells the truth but with the intent
that it be taken as a lie, and never lies but with the intent that he
be believed. A man who wishes to become head of state can do so in one
of three ways: he can marry into it; he can betray the reigning minister,
and then succeed him; he can engage in a campaign to smear the courts,
and so win favor for himself. Does any of this remind you of the Lilliputian
court? There, too, Swift was drawing parallels to English politics. He's
saying essentially the same thing here, but now he's using Gulliver as
his mouthpiece. Does this necessarily mean that Gulliver is Swift?
Gulliver again makes an attempt to dissociate himself from all Yahoos. His master wishes to pay him the compliment of being a "noble Yahoo," owing to his intelligence, fair coloring, and cleanliness. At this Gulliver launches into an attack on the English nobility. He says young nobles are bred in idleness and luxury, invariably contract venereal diseases, marry only for money and position, and have children who are "rickety, or deformed."
Not only is this Swift stating his case against the English nobility, it is Gulliver stating his case against humanity as he now perceives it.
For the first time Gulliver says straight out that he wishes never to return to a life among people. Among the Houyhnhnms, feels Gulliver, he has no example of vice, and thus the possibility of total virtuousness. How does this hit you? Are you as impressed as he is with the Houyhnhnms? As ashamed as he is to be counted among the human race?
While Gulliver was coming to this conclusion his master was also contemplating the traits characterizing Yahoos. The Houyhnhnm concedes that Yahoos had a "pittance of reason," but it served only to make them more corrupt and vice-ridden. As to Gulliver himself, the Houyhnhnm says he is inferior to other Yahoos from the point of view of physical strength, long claws, speed, etc. Yet he is like other Yahoos in that he has a deep hatred of his kind.
Yahoos hate each other more than any species on earth, says the Houyhnhnm. They fight to the death over food, treasure, tactical advantage of any kind. They destroy everything-roots, berries, fruits, animal flesh. They are gluttonous, sensation-mongers (having a likeness for a hallucinogenic root that grows in the Houyhnhnms' land), disease-ridden, dirty, splenetic, and lascivious.
Reason alone, says the Houyhnhnm, is sufficient "to govern a rational creature." The Yahoo's problem is that he's short on reason.
Do you agree with the Houyhnhnm? Is rationality all it takes?