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

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Gulliver's Misanthropic Travels

In Gulliver's Travels, many themes are prevalent. Swift is obviously trying to sway the reader's mind in many aspects, including the issue of colonization. There is one theme that seems to stick out the most to me. It is the most focused on and the most obvious: That the entire human race cannot be trusted-- with power or each other.
Gulliver encounters two different types of creatures when he reaches an unknown shore. He describes the first group of inhabitants in utter disgust. These creatures are far worse than uncivilized. Gulliver describes these people as hairy and unkempt- a very ugly breed. He deems them not worthy of any attention or much thought and continues on his way. He then meets the more "civilized" Houyhnhnms, which are creatures who resemble horses. These animals tell Gulliver that the uncivilized creatures are called "Yahoos".
At first, Gulliver is interested in the Houyhnhnms because he feels that they are somehow magical-- which is, of course, an assumption that any "rational" human would make about talking horses. He leads the reader to believe that there is more than meets the eye when the Houyhnhnms are concerned. However, as he continues his research, he finds that they are just a different kind of creature than he thought. They are just as they were presented-there is nothing more to them. The Yahoos, on the other hand, are presented as something totally different than they are. At first, the reader thinks that these creatures are out of this world. However, as Gulliver continues to describe this group, it becomes clear that this is a group of (uncivilized) humans.
Throughout his contact with these groups of animals, Gulliver stays clear to his misanthropic theme of mistrust. While subtle hints of the mistrust of humans might be touched on at different points, it is when Gulliver becomes engaged in conversation with the master of the Houyhnhnms, that he is straightforward of how humans of his world are not the most trustworthy. When he speaks of war, for example, he talks of the reason behind it- including a prince's abuse of power, an untrustworthy minister and difference of opinion. The Houyhnhnm leader is appalled by this because he realizes that people who are capable of reason are also capable of acting like Yahoos.
Gulliver then enters a conversation with the Honour about law and lawyers. In one line he writes "My master was yet wholly at a loss to understand what motives could incite this race of lawyers to perplex, disquiet and weary themselves, and engage in a confederacy of disjustice, merely for the sake of injuring their fellow-humans"(171). This perfectly describes Gulliver's outlook on humankind. During all of his conversations, he views humans as people who want to back-stab each other and are not worthy of trust. Gulliver himself is like this, especially in the beginning when he disguises himself so the Houyhnhnms will not know that he is more Yahoo-looking than them.
Toward the end of the tale, Gulliver has transformed. He has decided that he wants to stay on the island with the Houyhnhnms. He is so cynical about the human race, that he would rather live among the horse-like, innocent and almost dumb Houyhnhnms than return to a land of somewhat civilized European Yahoos.


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