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

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Less Than Utopian Society

Deniese Willard
EH 236
Dr. Shlensky
January 23, 2006
A Less Than Utopian Society
Jonathan Swift’s book Gulliver’s Travels is about a man named Gulliver who makes many travels, and on one of his journeys, falls into misfortune. He is taken captive by his own crew and is forced onto a seemingly deserted island. Gulliver finds, however, after some exploration, that he is not alone. The first creature that he comes across resembles humans, however, he says that he has never encountered “so disagreeable an animal.” He describes one of the creatures as being an “ugly monster” for which he has nothing but antipathy and contempt. The next creature Gulliver comes across is a horse, which he soon realizes carries great authority in the land in which he has arrived.
Gulliver is directed to the home of this horse, and soon learns to communicate with him. He learns that horses in this land are called Houyhnhnms, which means in their language, “the perfection of nature.” He also learns that the first creature that he had observed was a Yahoo. They are considered to be the vilest and most contemptuous creatures of the land. The horse, which he soon comes to call his master, is convinced that Gulliver is a Yahoo but is amazed at his “teachableness, civility, and cleanliness.” As Gulliver continues to learn the language, he also learns more about the Houyhnhnms and their way of life.
He learns that in this land, the Yahoos are slaves to the Houyhnhnms. They are the lowest creatures in the land, full of hate, greed, and filth. The Houyhnhnms have a strictly structured society. The Houyhnhnms are at the top of all the creatures, however, there is even distinction among themselves. The white, sorrel and iron-gray are not as great as the black, bay, and dapple Houyhnhnms. They are very rational creatures, believing solely in reason and not emotions or passions. They believe also in virtues, and adhere to their principles. They live at peace with one another, and have no conception of falsehood or evil.
Gulliver, who has been slighted by his fellow humans, easily accepts the Houyhnhnms’ way of life, increasingly despising the human race. While he sees them as perfect and portrays the Houyhnhnms as a Utopian society, the reader is given clues as to the many ways in which it is not so faultless.
One hint that the reader has that the Houyhnhnm society is not so perfect is that there is such a strict structure to society that includes discrimination. The white, iron-gray, and bay horses are not as great as the black, bay and dapple-gray horses. They are supposedly not shaped as well as the others and are not born with “equal talents of mind, or a capacity to improve them.” Therefore, they are reduced to servitude, which is not characteristic of a Utopian society.
Another example in the tale is that the Yahoos are enslaved by the Houyhnhnms. In a Utopian society there would be no slaves. They are forced to serve them, being kept like livestock in a stable, tied with ropes about their necks. They fear the Houyhnhnms, greatly and with good reason.
Another example that their society is less than utopic is the mention of genocide of the Yahoos. At a Great Assembly of the Houyhnhnms, the representatives debate whether Yahoos should be exterminated from the face of the earth. They mention all the problems that the Yahoos cause, and suggest that jackasses would be a preferable work animal. This idea of genocide is not characteristic of a Utopian society.
In these three examples, the reader can detect that the Houyhnhnm society is not quite Utopian. Though Gulliver comes to love their culture and its values, he is eventually forced to return home, in which he is never comfortable again. The Houyhnhnms’ narrow-minded teachings and principles have ruined his ability to fellowship with other humans. He despises himself as a human and all other humans. These are not the marks of a Utopian society. The reader discovers that despite Gulliver’s claims to the perfection of the Houyhnhnms, their society is slightly less than utopic.

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