This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Almost "Utopia"

There are several different suggestions that Houyhnhnm society is less than utopic. Before directly examining Houyhnhnm society, we must first look at the conceived notion of a true utopia. The American Heritage Dictionary defines utopia as “an ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects”. Perhaps the best example of a utopian society was preconceived in Plato’s Republic. In book I of the Republic, Socrates begins his conversation with Thrasymachus by telling him that they are pursuing gold or something more important than gold, they are inquiring into the best way for a person to live. Following this statement Socrates goes on to give a systematic analysis of the parts of the soul, state , and the permutations of their combinations to produce a list of the different types of lives a person can live. This puts him in a position to answer the important question. Under what conditions will all of the members of a society flourish? On the surface this question appears to be answered by the culture of the Houyhnhmns, but by further observations we begin to see how far from utopia their culture actually is. In fact, it is the extreme opposite.

In dealing with the idea of a Utopian Society, Swift seems to take a more skeptical outlook than Plato. One of his main observations of famous historical utopias is the ever-present tendency to privilege the collective group over the individual. This, of course, is the main theme present in the account of life with the Houyhnhmns’. The parallels drawn between Gulliver and the Houyhnhmns are extremely important. While the Houyhnhmns value the collective group, Gulliver is in a sense excluded from any collective society and is instead forced to live life on the opposite end of the spectrum as a wondering individual. However, we can see from this comparison, that the Houyhnhmns and Gulliver each possess conflicting view points that together would indeed go a long way in producing a utopian society.

Another factor that contributes to the Houyhnhmns less than utopic society is the practice of strict family planning. The latter dictates that the parents of two females should exchange a child with a family of two males, so that the male to female ratio is perfectly maintained. This of course fits perfectly with the idea of a cohesive unit, but it sternly contradicts the need for individuality in a utopian society. The Houyhnhmns represent an ideal for rational existence, they lead a life dedicated to sense and moderation. Despite their vehement loyalty to the senses and act of moderation, their society is missing many important characteristics a utopian society is thought to possess. By being bound by sense and moderation they are lacking any key areas of a society in which each individual can flourish. The lives of the Houyhnhmns are lacking in necessary passions, pleasures , and individual ideas. There lives also consist of little or no challenge or any chance of enrichment. This can best be described by the Houyhnhmns racial inequality among the different colors of their species.

The parallels drawn between the Yahoos and Houyhnhmns present the clearest evidence in regards to a utopian society. While the yahoos represent the act of true “emotion”, the Houyhnhmns clearly represent true “reason”. By looking at the virtues of each culture we can begin to see the implicit differences needed to create or fit the definition of a true utopia. Too much of each virtue is extreme and sadly leads each culture to a less than “utopian” society.


Blogger Heather Davis said...

I really enjoyed reading Justin's response to Swift's: Gulliver's Travels. I like the way he lead up to his response to the question, he did not just jump into his response. I do believe that Justin supported his response. Great job!!!!

4:31 PM  

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