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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
From this chapter on, Gulliver does all he can to try to "become" a Houyhnhnm. He learns the language with astonishing speed-within five months he can understand everything that is said to him by the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver's host is very impressed with him, and wonders how Gulliver was taught to imitate a rational creature. In his experience, Yahoos were "the most unteachable of all brutes." Though Gulliver may be impressive to the Houyhnhnms, he still hasn't convinced them that he isn't a Yahoo.
But Gulliver presses on, determined to learn all he can about Houyhnhnms so he can take on their ways. The Houyhnhnms have no word for lying in their language, a falsehood is referred to as "the thing which was not." Gulliver is enchanted that no such vice as lying exists in this land. Indeed, this is impressive. The Houyhnhnms are equally impressed with themselves-the word Houyhnhnm means "perfection of nature."
Do you think these creatures have named themselves aptly, or do you
think the name indicates that they are self-satisfied and egotistical?
At this point you probably have too little information about them to form
a solid opinion, but keep the question in mind as you read on.
Gulliver continues to do his best to cover up the fact that he more nearly resembles the Yahoos than the Houyhnhnms. He never takes off his clothes, and his hosts assume his clothes constitute his skin. One night, though, Gulliver's clothes (which he used as a sort of blanket) fell off him as he slept. A servant (a sorrel nag) had been sent to tell Gulliver the master wanted to see him, and on seeing Gulliver naked takes fright that Gulliver is not the same thing night and day. The master of the house comes in to examine Gulliver, and concludes that he must be a perfect Yahoo, so smooth and fair is his body. The Houyhnhnm is mystified, however, that Gulliver should cover his body. Neither he nor his family nor any Houyhnhnm was ashamed of any part of their body, and never cover themselves. To this, Gulliver makes no reply. What would you have said? Swift here is raising the question of original sin as represented by our covering certain parts of our bodies. The Houyhnhnms have no such concept, and therefore, no such feelings of shame and guilt. Gulliver has, however; it is so ingrained in him and so disturbing to him that he can't yet bring himself to talk about it with his Houyhnhnm host.
Right after the incident with Gulliver's clothes, Gulliver begs his master not to call him a Yahoo. He repeats that he finds Yahoos "odious" and has "hatred" and "contempt" for them. And after thus presenting his case, Gulliver asks if the Houyhnhnm would keep the matter of his clothes a secret, and order the sorrel nag to do the same.
The Houyhnhnm consents to both of Gulliver's requests, as he is impressed with Gulliver's intelligence, and hopes to learn more about Gulliver and the land from which he comes. So, Gulliver's lessons resume with renewed intensity.