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Gulliver’s conversion into a reasonable horse and his upcoming hate towards mankind

An investigation of Jonathan Swift’s "Gulliver’s Travels"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2006 16 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature

Excerpt

Contents

1. Introduction

2. Gulliver’s relationship to the Houyhnhnms
2.1 Gulliver’s adaptation to and admiration of the Houyhnhnms
2.2. Expulsion from Houyhnhnm-land

3. Gulliver’s gradual development towards misanthropy
3.1 Influencing and persuasion through conversations with the Houyhnhnm master
3.2 The identification of Yahoos with humans
3.3 Gulliver’s tragic situation after his return to Europe

4. Conclusion

5. Works cited:

Primary literature

Secondary literature

1. Introduction

The following essay deals with the misanthropy of the protagonist Lemuel Gulliver from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The question, whether the protagonist’s hate towards mankind can be equated with a possible misanthropy of the author shall not be discussed here. Likewise, the topic of the author’s conception of man will not be examined. The author’s intentions are deliberately excluded to keep the focus on the narrative’s interpretation and relevant secondary literature. Therefore, Swift’s satirical intentions regarding the portrayal of the main character Gulliver will not be taken into account either.

Since Gulliver’s self-knowledge, which makes him become a misanthropist was one of the most discussed issues regarding the reception of Gulliver’s Travels, I want to investigate the reasons, motivations and stages of Gulliver’s conversion, find possibly crucial experiences that lead to his cognition and scrutinize, whether his development is portrayed as credible or not.[1]

In the first part I will scrutinize Gulliver’s attitude to the Houyhnhnms and the influence of his expulsion on his morale. In the second part of my essay I will concentrate on Gulliver becoming a misanthrope and the way his new conception of man is shaped.

2. Gulliver’s relationship to the Houyhnhnms

Gulliver’s attitude towards the inhabitants of Houyhnhnm-land plays an important role in shaping his view of his own species. I hope to make clear that Gulliver’s admiration for the Houyhnhnms, which is not even weakened by his banishment, leads to his pessimistic image of his countrymen. His experiences among the Houyhnhnms, the way he is treated by them and examples of his own behaviour, as well as his view of his superior interlocutors will be scrutinized in the following chapters.

2.1 Gulliver’s adaptation to and admiration of the Houyhnhnms

It is conspicuous that at the beginning of Book IV, shortly after his arrival in Houyhnhnm-land, Gulliver shows his philanthropic view and mentions to be a great lover of mankind.[2] Especially in the course of his conversations with his Houyhnhnm master, Gulliver’s attitude towards his fellow countrymen will change.

At the beginning of his encounter with the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver experiences them as orderly, rational, gentle and considerate, while he is astonished to find talking and rational horses.[3] Next he tries to survive in the land of the Houyhnhnms: he needs to find an adequate kind of food and begins to learn the Houyhnhnm language.[4] Gulliver seems to overlook that the Houyhnhnms also pursue an aim: in difference to other leading persons he meets on his voyages in the previous chapters of Gulliver’s Travels, the Houyhnhnms are eager to learn about his home country. The Houyhnhnms’ cold curiosity is clearly stressed, when the Houyhnhnm master makes the other Houyhnhnms treat Gulliver friendly in order to make Gulliver feel good and to make him become more talkative.[5] What plays the most decisive role in Gulliver’s view of his new acquaintances, is his admiration of their understanding of reason. He sees in the Houyhnhnms the ideal of virtue and reason. Moreover the Houyhnhnms embody the human ideal, which was pursued by the orthodox anthropology of Swift’s times: animal rationale. Therefore it is easily understood that Gulliver tries to identify with the Houyhnhnms.[6] What might also influence his enthusiasm for the Houyhnhnms is his general feeling of well-being. For the first time during his voyages Gulliver has found happiness: he has good nutrition, a decent hut and he can make his own clothes. He leads a healthy and peaceful life and enjoys good conversations with his master Houyhnhnm. Moreover he is free from the temptations and treacheries of Europe.[7]

Gulliver’s satisfaction and happiness goes so far that he even forgets about his obligations towards his family, which becomes clear in chapter seven, where he wishes to stay with the Houyhnhnms forever. Whereas he dreamt of his wife and children in Part II, he now seems to have completely forgotten his roots and responsibilities. Not surprisingly, his decision is influenced by his gratitude to his Houyhnhnm master and his admiration for the Houyhnhnm race.[8] In his essay “Conversion on the Road to Hoyhnhnmland”, Calhoun Winton identifies the reason for Gulliver’s happiness as follows: “Here Gulliver finds what he has subconsciously sought: […] an enlightened religion, […] a universal standard of benevolence and a country governed by reason.”[9] Gulliver’s concluding remark about the Houyhnhnms’ concept of reason expresses his fascination and contains that it is “neither discursive, nor persuasive, nor directed to the creation of totalising rational structures”.[10]

A less understanding view on Gulliver’s enthusiasm is that the positive characteristics, which Gulliver attributes to the Houyhnhnms, are the result of his temporary loss of reason.[11] This corresponds to the attitude that Gulliver’s development in the world of the Houyhnhnms becomes more and more absurd, the more it becomes completely natural for him to observe and admire their values.[12] Gulliver’s gullibility can also be seen as one of the reasons for his unreserved admiration for the Houyhnhnms.[13] Since the Houyhnhnms also have negative attributes and represent a sterile rationalism, Gulliver’s exaggerated admiration for them can be seen as a sign of his hopeless delusion.[14] This idea is shared by Kathleen Williams, who states that the reader feels disgusted with Gulliver’s exaggerated devotion to the cold, self-satisfied and arrogant Houyhnhnms, who show the inadequacy of a society that is characterized by pure reason.[15] Another view that understands Gulliver’s devotion in a negative way is that he loses his soul to the rational Houyhnhnms and chooses to quit human society.[16]

In the critical reception of Gulliver’s Travels, the followers of the “soft school” and the “hard school” share the idea of a “blinded Gulliver”. The “soft school” offers a more critical approach and states that Gulliver is blinded by the horses’ rationality, follows their deceptive ideals and attacks human pride while he is incapable of recognizing his own arrogance. In contrast, the followers of the “hard school” do not condemn Gulliver so severely. They advocate the thesis that Gulliver enjoys the privilege to be a brief witness of the Houyhnhnms’ ideal way of living and is blinded by this inspiration of perfection. Through this blinding Gulliver is said to lose his orientation among human society.[17]

For Gulliver himself it becomes clear that his admiration for the Houyhnhnms is spoiled by his cognition to be a miserable Yahoo.[18] Moreover, there are some more reasons that should have weakened Gulliver’s admiration. In his essay “The Houyhnhnms, the Yahoos, and the History of Ideas” Crane defines Gulliver’s behaviour as an “unqualified worship of the Houyhnhnms”, which addresses the question of credibility.[19] It is obvious that Gulliver overlooks the Houyhnhnms’ negative traits: they can be seen as arrogant, unfeeling and provincial.[20] Also the Houyhnhnms’ naivety and ignorance of the outside world, which become clear when the Houyhnhnm master cannot believe Gulliver’s stories about a “Country beyond the Sea”, are ignored by Gulliver.[21] In addition, Gulliver’s admiration for the Houyhnhnms goes so far that he completely disregards the Houyhnhnms’ contemptuous view and treatment of the Yahoos. This accords with the concept of a blinded Gulliver and already indicates his horror and disorientation that are caused by his expulsion from the Houyhnhnm society.

The next chapter will show in what way Gulliver’s misanthropy is strengthened by his expulsion from Houyhnhnm-land.

2.2. Expulsion from Houyhnhnm-land

Since Gulliver’s enthusiasm and idealization of the Houyhnhnms has brought him absolute happiness and satisfaction, he is more than surprised when he learns of his future expulsion: he swoons with shock and grief.[22] Another reason for his distress is the fact that Houyhnhnm-land now means for Gulliver a peaceful refuge from the gloomy and murderous life in Europe.[23] Finally, his discovery of the human inferiority results in his wish to stay forever in the land of the Houyhnhnms.[24] In Gulliver’s opinion, the Houyhnhnms should know that the severe decision to expel him from Houyhnhnm-land is not necessary. Therefore, his continuing respect for the Houyhnhnms again expresses his mad infatuation.[25] On the other hand Gulliver’s expulsion can be justified, since he has no definite place in Houyhnhnm-land: he has more reason than the Yahoos, but he lacks the “intuitive perceptions of the Houyhnhnms”.[26] This crucial argument, his human dualism, which is seen as menacing and unbearable by the Houyhnhnms, justifies his expulsion. When Gulliver returns home he shows marks of his conversion: he wants to convey his new religion to others and rejects those, who refuse to accept his faith. As a result, he rejects the human race. He is even almost unable to recognize the Christian charity, which is offered to him by his rescuer Pedro de Mendez.[27] At this point, Gulliver shows some gratitude towards Captain Mendez and tries to conceal his aversion for human beings, but it becomes stronger and stronger the closer he gets to civilization.[28]

[...]


[1] Wolfgang Weiß. Swift und die Satire des 18. Jahrhunderts: Epoche – Werke – Wirkung. München: Beck, 1992. 218

[2] Hermann J. Real & Heinz J. Vienken. Jonathan Swift: „Gulliver’s Travels“. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1984. 103

[3] Howard Erskine-Hill. Jonathan Swift – Gulliver’s Travels. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 65

[4] Hermann J. Real & Heinz J. Vienken. Jonathan Swift: „Gulliver’s Travels“. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1984. 104

[5] Kathleen M. Williams. “Gulliver’s Voyage to the Houyhnhnms”. In: A Casebook on Gulliver among the Houyhnhnms. Milton P. Foster (Ed.). New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company, 1961. 197

[6] Hermann J. Real & Heinz J. Vienken. Jonathan Swift: „Gulliver’s Travels“. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1984. 110

[7] Howard Erskine-Hill. Jonathan Swift – Gulliver’s Travels. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 74

[8] Howard Erskine-Hill. Jonathan Swift – Gulliver’s Travels. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 72

[9] Calhoun Winton. “Conversion on the Road to Hoyhnhnmland”. In: A Casebook on Gulliver among the Houyhnhnms. Milton P. Foster (Ed.). New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company, 1961. 277

[10] Howard Erskine-Hill. Jonathan Swift – Gulliver’s Travels. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 73

[11] Edward Stone. “Swift and the Horses: Misanthropy or Comedy?”. Modern Language Quarterly. 10 (1949), 367-376. 369

[12] Herbert Zirker. “Lemuel Gullivers Yahoos und Swifts Satire”. Anglia. 87 (1969), 39-63. 45

[13] ibid. 46

[14] W. B. Carnochan.“The complexity of Swift: Gulliver’s fourth voyage”. Studies in Philology. 60 (1963), 23-44. 23

[15] Kathleen M. Williams. “Gulliver’s Voyage to the Houyhnhnms”. In: A Casebook on Gulliver among the Houyhnhnms. Milton P. Foster (Ed.). New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company, 1961. 194-195

[16] Hermann J. Real & Heinz J. Vienken. Jonathan Swift: „Gulliver’s Travels“. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1984. 101

[17] ibid. 102

[18] Wolfgang Weiß. Swift und die Satire des 18. Jahrhunderts: Epoche – Werke – Wirkung. München: Beck, 1992. 219

[19] R. S. Crane. “The Houyhnhnms, the Yahoos, and the History of Ideas”. In: Reason and Imagination – Studies in the History of Ideas 1600-1800. J. A. Mazzeo (Ed.). New York: Columbia University Press, 1962. 232

[20] Michael V. DePorte. Nightmares and Hobbyhorses – Swift, Sterne, and Augustan Ideas of Madness. San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1974. 95

[21] W. B. Carnochan.“The complexity of Swift: Gulliver’s fourth voyage”. Studies in Philology. 60 (1963), 23-44. 29

[22] Howard Erskine-Hill. Jonathan Swift – Gulliver’s Travels. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 75

[23] ibid. 77

[24] Hermann J. Real & Heinz J. Vienken. Jonathan Swift: „Gulliver’s Travels“. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1984. 108

[25] W. B. Carnochan.“The complexity of Swift: Gulliver’s fourth voyage”. Studies in Philology. 60 (1963), 23-44. 24

[26] ibid. 30-31

[27] Calhoun Winton. “Conversion on the Road to Hoyhnhnmland”. In: A Casebook on Gulliver among the Houyhnhnms. Milton P. Foster (Ed.). New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company, 1961. 278

[28] W. B. Carnochan.“The complexity of Swift: Gulliver’s fourth voyage”. Studies in Philology. 60 (1963), 23-44. 42

Details

Pages
16
Year
2006
ISBN (eBook)
9783640348442
ISBN (Book)
9783640347971
File size
478 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v128335
Institution / College
University of Hamburg
Grade
2,7
Tags
Gulliver’s Jonathan Swift’s Travels

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Title: Gulliver’s conversion into a reasonable horse and his upcoming hate towards mankind