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Gulliver's Travels: Houyhnhnms and Yahoos

Show the contrast between the Houyhnhnm race and the Yahoo race.
by

Anna Mason

on 23 April 2013

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Transcript of Gulliver's Travels: Houyhnhnms and Yahoos

Gulliver's Travels
Anna Mason Two Basic Themes
Which Swift presents: The Yahoos In Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the characterization of two different races of creature are made prevalent. Swift creates opposing themes for the two races. The first theme being the rationality of the Houyhnhnms. Houyhnhnms are horses which Swift describes as creatures with the characteristics of “Honor, Truth, Justice, Temperance, Public Spirit, Fortitude, Charity, Friendship, benevolence, and Fidelity” (Swift, page 2631). They are horses, but in Swift's world the Houyhnhnm society is set up on rationality. The Houyhnhnms capitalize their civilization on what Swift describes as a Utopian Society. This contrasty greatly to the second race, The Yahoos, who swift sees as "cunning malicious, treaterous, and revengeful.. of a cowardly spirit and by consequence insolent, abject, and cruel"(2614). They Yahoos to Gulliver embody Dystopia. The Houyhnhnms and The Yahoos Gulliver meeting the mighty Houyhnhnms for the first time. Gulliver can only see good virtues in the Houyhnhnm race, and fault in his own as Gulliver states : “For who can read the virtues I have mentioned in the glorious Houyhnhnm s, without being ashamed of his own vices?” (2630). He sees them as being:
-Extreme of Rationality
-A society made of peaceful beings
-There is no reason for war because there isn’t a group of people nearby
Houyhnhnms don’t see the purpose over fighting for land, since it belongs to everyone

-There is no written language, so they have no way to keep track of history: "The Houyhnhnms have no letters, and consequently, their knowledge is all traditional" (2618). Therefore they have no way to see if there was any violence in the far past with their ancestors.
-They do not mourn losing things, nor have a fear of death
- They are stoic but benevolent creatures


- As time goes on and Gulliver is in the company of the Houyhnhnms more and more, the level of perfection which he views them increases. They can do no wrong in his eyes. For example when Gulliver tries and explains crime and punishment in our world, his Houyhnhnm master can hardly fathom it: “He was wholly at a loss to know what could be the necessity or use of those vices” (2600). This is the greatest contrast Swift presents in Gulliver’s Travels, because punishment is one of the most universally known things in humanity, with wars and revolts and famines. The idea that this race simply doesn’t even see the need for something humans cannot live without demonstrates how pure and untainted they are. The Houyhnhnm race is so logical they see no means for such brute methods of action against one another. This further emphasizes how Gulliver sees them as “these animals so Rational and orderly, so acute and judicious”(2590). He interprets them as a society so rational and clean they could almost be ethereal. Gulliver sees the Houyhnhnms almost as a divine or angelic race. The second race that Swift presents is the Yahoos. The Yahoos are the complete opposite of the Houyhnhnms in every way. Gulliver despises them as soon as he sees them stating “I never beheld so disagreeable an animal” he is so sickened by what he sees by the Yahoos that his hatred for them only increases over time (2589). Swift aids this by making Yahoo actions be that of the traits of some of the most dirty creatures including apes, dogs, and politicians. Swift makes the first connection of Yahoos to apes when Gulliver approaches them and states “they began to discharge excrement on my head”(2589). This is something that apes are commonly known for doing. It is one of the filthiest things an animal can do, but Swift gives them not only the dumbness of an animal but the corruption of a human. Politicians are at times seen as “crap throwers and “mudslingers,” who are never afraid to go to any lengths to get what they want done. Swift goes into great detail describing these qualities of the yahoos: “For they are cunning and malicious, treacherous and revengeful…of a cowardly spirit and by consequence insolent, object, and cruel” (2614). Swift is constantly making the connection of Yahoos and dirt. Not only do they sling mud, but they have an odd obsession with it: “another thing he wondered at in the Yahoos was their disposition to nastiness and dirt” (2595). This extends to the point where it becomes their main form of symbolism. They actually become the dirt in which they dwell: “their filthy way of feeding and their costume to wallowing and sleeping in the mud” (2612). The Yahoo dystopian society is comprised by:
-Everything belongs to everyone
-No feelings
-No religion
-Separated into classes
-Utopian sense lost due to monotony, and the lack of interaction with others.
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