Jonathon Swifts Gullivers Travels Book Four



Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel: Book Four

When Gulliver’s Travels was first published in 1726, Swift instantly became history’s absolute most famous misanthrope. Thackeray was not alone in his outrage when he denounced it as “past all sense of manliness and shame; filthy in word, filthy in thought, furious, raging, obscene” (quoted in Hogan, 1979: 648). Since then, few literary works have been so extremely dissected, discussed and disagreed upon. It is the magnum opus of one of the English language’s greatest satirists, but definitely does not offer any simple answers. It is written like the typical travel book of the day, but instead of offering a relaxing escape from the real world, Gulliver’s Travels brings us face to face with reality in all it’s complexity.

Of the four books comprising the work, by far the most controversial has been the last, “A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms”. In it, the narrator, Gulliver, is deposited by mutineers on an island colonised by two species. The Yahoos are dirty, savage and barbaric, with no capacity for reason. These wretched creatures physically resemble humans but immediately fill Gulliver with loathing. The Houyhnhnms, retrospectively, are a race of talking horses governed completely by reason. They lead natural, simplified lives, and use the Yahoos for menial labour. They are so honest they cannot conceive of the notion of dishonesty. They regard Gulliver as a precocious Yahoo and, after a few years, banish him from the Island. Gulliver spends the rest of his life in England, trying to talk with horses and regarding his fellow humans “only with Hatred, Disgust and Contempt”.

Gulliver’s Travels is a satire, and Gulliver, as satirical devise does not have a fully-fledged personality. Although it is dangerous to equate the narrator with author completely, Gulliver and Swift share the same basic view of human nature. The difference, as R. Crane says, is simply “between a person who has just discovered a deeply disturbing truth about man and is considerably upset with one who has known this truth all the long and can therefore write of his hero’s discovery calmly and with humour”. Readers have no other source but Gulliver, and therefore, no contradicting views between which to decide. The ending of the book is not comical, but poignant. Gulliver, once so self-assured and proud of his species, has undergone a tragic disillusionment with cleverly forms the climax of the entire work.

Nevertheless, Swift does, ultimately, give us a glimmer of hope for humanity. After all, this is the Irish patriot who pronounced Ireland “the most miserable country apon earth”. Although he is passionate in his hatred for humankind, he is almost equally passionate in his love for it. True, this is no gentle humanist who sees the world basking in a rosy glow. Yet no one who really does not care for his own species is so angry at finding it deficient. If Swift were really an all-out misanthrope, he would not have seen the point of trying to make humanity aware of its condition. He would not have given two thirds of his earnings to the poor. In his own forceful, delicate way, Swift dedicated his life to improving society. He knew he could not make Houyhnhnms of humans, but at least he could hold up his famous mirror of satire to show his fellow Yahoos what they really are.




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