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

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Misanthropy Prevails...

To portray misanthropy is to portray hatred for, and to despise mankind. The question of whether Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is a misanthropic work cannot be answered with a single explanation. Readers take very different positions on that vexing question. By reading the text, one is not fully capable of understanding, or knowing, where Swift would place humanity on the scale between Houyhnhnm and Yahoo. “At the heart of Gulliver’s Travels lies the question, What does it mean to be a human being?” (Harter 147).

On Gulliver’s first voyage, he is shipwrecked on the shores of the Lilliputians. His second voyage lands Gulliver among the Brobdingnagians, giants whose blunt speech and physical grossness disgust him. Gulliver claims that Brobdingnagian warts and pimples appear the size of boulders. The third voyage is a satire upon mock scientists at the Grand Academy of Lagado. Gulliver’s final voyage, his most troubling voyage, takes him to the country to the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms are supremely rational horses; they are accompanied by their nasty-tempered draft-animals, the human-looking Yahoos. Yahoos initially frighten all other creatures in their vicinity. Gulliver describes Yahoos as lazy, filthy, lustful, greedy, and aggressive. “They are unmistakably degenerate versions of human beings, though just how corrupted Swift intended them to seem is not clear” (145). Some readers believe that the Yahoos are a reflection of Swift’s own hatred of people. On the other hand, the Houyhnhnms are the rigid order of their society. Gulliver, always easily impressed, is totally won to the horses’ way of life, and desperately disassociates himself from the Yahoos. “His voice takes on a whinnying notes and his gait is a modified trot, in imitation of his idols” (145). The former behavior clearly portrays a somewhat misanthropic act on Gulliver’s part. He views the Yahoos, the organisms that relate the closest to human form, as barbaric and filthy. Gulliver states that their “shape was very singular, and deformed…” Whereas, the Houyhnhnms, the horses, became Gulliver’s friends, as well as his teachers. The Houyhnhnms claim Yahoos lack reason and the ability to learn. They scratch, bite, and throw excrement at their enemies. Such as it is with human nature, “Yahoo females flirt with males with whom they have no intention of mating…one Yahoo acts as a go-between when two others are involved in such a dispute and makes off with the treasure himself, much like a lawyer” (145).

Although there is controversy concerning Swift’s meaning of humanity, personally, I believe that Gulliver’s Travels is a misanthropic work. Throughout his entire fourth voyage, Gulliver degrades the Yahoos, as well as their way of life. At the end of the story, Gulliver sails off in a boat made up of miscellaneous Yahoo skins. “Later, he is disgusted by the very sight of the generous captain who rescues him, and once back home he is only by degrees able to bear the company of his own family, preferring to be with his carriage horses” (145). Gulliver portrays mankind as barbaric and uneducated. He clearly favors his barnyard friends to humanity.


Blogger BJ Baughcum said...

Great job on defending. I think we both pretty much agree on sayin his work was that of a misanthropic manner. You had plenty of supporting evidence to back that. I guess the only adjustment you could make is to try and cut back on the number of direct quotes from the book.

1:07 AM  

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