April 14 : Gulliver’s Travels

Often, “Gulliver’s Travels” is referenced as a satire. How do you know this as the reader? Are there any characters or instances that suggest this? Does the language lend to the supposed-satirical nature of the book? If you disagree, why and what’s the evidence?

14 thoughts on “April 14 : Gulliver’s Travels

  1. As a reader, we know Gulliver’s Travels (part 4 specifically) is a satire because of its initially bombastic material and the way it slowly progresses to a comment on human society. The words Houyhnhnm, the name of a race of superior, intelligent horses, and Yahoo, a foul race of primitive, human-like creatures, are frankly ridiculous, which Swift makes no effort to hide, particularly in the introduction of these creatures. We go in thinking, like Gulliver, that these creatures are alien and strange and that there is no way we could possibly relate to them. And yet throughout the story, Gulliver slowly becomes more attached to the Houyhnhnms and progresses to seeing his own race as the savage, incompetent Yahoos. If there were any doubts that this was a satire before reading, those are put to rest when Gulliver returns home and finds his old life despicable, seeing the customs of human society as wrong. Gulliver’s Travels is a satire because it forces Gulliver, and therefore the reader, to rethink the norms of our society and see it from the outside looking in.

  2. Certainly we are aware of the satire through the use of fantasy, the civilization of intelligent horses as well as by, as stated above the “bombasticity” of the language used to describe these groups. However I found the most satirical aspect of this section to be the near utopian views the Houyhnhnm master expresses towards the middle to end of book four. As he and Gulliver discuss and compare their civilizations the Houyhnhnm master points out his innate views on equality. He expresses very anti-racist and anti-colonialist sentiments. This is very progressive for the historical context in which it was written, so much so that the sentiment behind Gulliver’s travels could really only acceptably be expressed in satire.

  3. As a reader we know it is referenced as a satire because, swift is mocking the political commentary, the life of the court of Lilliput, and everyone he crosses. He uses physical reality to mock sizes and looks. Swift uses Utopia and Dystopia to show satire in the setting. And how in a paradox way Utopia can change quickly. I feel like the language doesn’t necessarily show satire, it is shown more in characters, and the plot.

    • I feel like another way the satire could be seen through the characters is when Gulliver and the master Houyhnhnm compare the world the horses know and the world that Gulliver knows. Gulliver describes how horses are used for travel and labor reasons. The master is surprised to hear this and finds it unbelievable when the horses are obviously so much stronger than humans. This is satirical because of how true it is. If other animals were as intelligent as we were, we would probably be in the same boat as the Yahoos.

  4. Yes, it is very clear that Book 4 of Gulliver’s Travels is a satire. Satire can be defined as using humor, particularly irony or exaggeration, to criticize and draw attention to contemporary or political issues in the context of their ignorance and foolishness. Swift definitely recognizes this and uses this, beginning with the absurdity found in the first chapter of book 4. There is a decisive split between the Yahoos, who he describes as “singular and deformed” and the Houyhnhnms, who are described as having a “proportionable degree of reason” (1335). The contrast between the intelligent race and the feebleminded race hark back to descriptions of European colonists encountering natives for the first time. The Yahoos willingness to eat flesh just confirms this comparison, as cannibalism was a trait commonly attributed to indigenous peoples. On page 1339, when he describes their language, Swift is extremely satiric as he says “Charles V made almost the same observation when he said that if he were to speak to his horse, it would be in High Dutch.” Swift relies on a great deal of absurdity in his storytelling, and this combined with contemporary references make both the language and the situations in Book 4 highly satirical.

  5. I definitely believe Gulliver’s Travels Book 4 can be characterized as a satire. It is evident though the blatant juxtaposition of the barbaric human Yahoos with the civilized and rational Houyhnhnm horses and their exaggerated descriptions. This reversal of the traditional beast vs. human dynamic can only be explained through satire, and Swift utilizes the unconventional characters to comment on humanity’s inherently beastly nature.

  6. I’m not entirely certain that the fantastical elements, such as the wild descriptions of the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms, are the key factors that identify this work of fiction as satire, as the purpose of satire is to mock some group or institution for the sake of educating and informing the reader. I think Nora’s comment is nearer to what particular instance most signifies to us that this narrative is satire; we know that Jonathan Swift, from his endorsement of the language academy to his views on religion, that he was reactionary and conservative in his worldview. He first remarks that their language “approaches nearest to the High Dutch, or German, of any I know in Europe; but is much more graceful and significant.” [1339] We are take this as to be offensive towards the Holy Roman Emperor., as the horse people are not literate. The notion of the Houyhnhnm’s lacking the concept of falsehood is also much more fantastical than any other element in the story to an English reader; their general innocence and their fewer “wants and passions” might indicate more satirical elements than mere fiction.

  7. So, when I looked at this question, I decided to Google the definition of satire as well: “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”
    I think we know this is a satire because it is essentially a social “commentary”. Swift tells little stories about his characters, but he also seems to be poking fun at them, The first little section we read, “The Progress of Beauty,” talks about how a woman named Celia transforms herself into a beautiful woman when she wakes up. He also says it takes her four hours to transform herself!! That in itself seemed to be a critical statement. It then goes on and says “Venus, indulgent to her kind,/ Gave women all their hearts could wish./ When first she taught them where to find/ White lead and Lusitanian dish (Swift 45-48). As we have already learned in this class, all women really want is the freedom to choose, so I think Swift might have been poking a little fun when he sent Venus, the goddess of love, to give women makeup. This is just one instance that I thought funny, and was a satire or comedic in nature.

  8. I am certain that Book 4 of Gulliver’s travels can be characterized as a satire. The reader can see the elements of satire in that the descriptions of the Yahoos and the Houyhmhmns. The Yahoos are characterized as a primitive race that resemble human form, whereas the Houyhmhmns are seen as superior, they do not resemble humans but instead horses. As the story progresses, Gulliver realizes nature of the Houyhmhmns and sees how his own human race closely resembles the savage nature of the Yahoos. There are also elements of satire present in how the court of Lilliput is conducted as well as the juxtaposition of Utopia and Dystopia.

  9. I think this narrative is a satire because in some ways it displays the interpreted strange beastly creatures as more humane than that of the civilized England. The master at some point couldn’t believe the brutality of the people of England when he described all the murderous and deceitful people that travelled on a journey with him as well as the reasoning behind all the wars that happened. In a sense it all seems foolish looking on the outside from the master’s point of view that any of the occurrences were even necessary. The fact that the master and his flock aren’t even humans and see their actions as barbaric and uncivil really sheds light on how author really perceived the nature of people in general.

  10. Of all the travels Gulliver embarks on, his journey to the land of the Houyhmhmns provides the reader a unique perspective of Jonathan Swift’s view of politics in early 18th Century Europe. As Franco and Nora previously mentioned, the fantastical elements of this fourth book alone does not make the fourth book a poignant satire. Instead of the outward descriptions of horses who possess sentient knowledge, Gulliver does more to criticize his time when he reflects upon his own nature. Gulliver’s reluctance to take off his clothes shows that to some level he is aware that only his trinkets physically distinguishes him from the other Yahoo’s. He envies the nature of the Houyhmhmns. They cant say what is not, they hold little possession, and their physical prowess holds dominion over the lesser humans when their brains are on the same level. Another overlooked aspect of the satire is the characters role in either breaking or reinforcing stereotypes. Gulliver’s efforts to instill knowledge in the Yahoo’s reinforces the corrupt nature of modern man. He plants the seed for future misery within the land of the Houyhmhmns. A slap to any individual who believes that their own culture’s customs holds more value than another when in fact they are not even the most pure of sentient beings.

  11. The way that Swift makes it apparent that he is drawing parallels to discuss humanity through the ridiculous makes this a satire. I thought this text clearly had the intention of mocking humans through irony and juxtaposition. At first, Gulliver obviously feels superior to the goat-like people, which we hear when he says “I never beheld in all my travels so disagreeable an animal, or one against which I naturally conceived so strong an antipathy” (1335). After hitting one with his sword, several come together to poop on him, which should speak to what they think of him (even if it is there potential form of attack). The most apparent use of this is when the horses line Gulliver up alongside the “detestable creatures [or] …beasts” that he had encountered earlier (1337). They compare him by seeing what he chooses to eat in reference to them. From a language perspective, “Houyhnhyns” reminded me far too much of the word “humans” which was to compare the superior-mentality and actions. I thought there was a lot of colonial kind of discourse or mentality,especially after having read Oroonoko it is hard to not think of how they kept yahoos tied/shackled in the back and how the Master wants to teach Gulliver things such as their language.

  12. This book is most certainly satire. Jonathan Swift was famous for his satire, but beyond that, he uses the fantastic set up of the book to make his points about human society. The Houyhnhnms are a utopian society, at one with nature, with none of the flaws or vices of European humans or Yahoos. So when Gulliver tells his Houyhnhm master about the current political climate of Europe, the horse responds with confusion. He could not understand “what motives could incite this race of lawyers to perplex, disquiet, and weary themselves by engaging in a confederacy of injustice, merely for the sake of injuring their fellow animals” (pg 1347). Here, Gulliver is exaggerating very little about humans, and as a result we the readers see the logical fallacies in human nature by seeing ourselves through the eyes of another intelligent being.

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