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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
By now Gulliver is fluent enough in the Houyhnhnm language to tell his master some particulars about himself, the ways of his countrymen, and the events of his voyage. Gulliver says he had occasion to talk of "lying" and "false representation," both of which his master had great difficulty understanding. As there is no word for "lying" in the Houyhnhnm language, there is no word for "doubt." The Houyhnhnm says that lying defeats the very purpose of language, which is to make us understand one another. Do you think this is Swift's opinion on lying? Is it yours? The Houyhnhnm is astonished that there are places where Yahoos are actually in charge. Needless to say, he's indignant that Yahoos ride on the backs of Houyhnhnms in England, and shocked that castration of horses is a common practice. How do these things appear to you as you try to consider them from the viewpoint of a Houyhnhnm?
On hearing Gulliver's stories, the Houyhnhnm decides to take a closer look at Gulliver. He judges Gulliver's body to be very inefficient-only two feet, eyes that cannot see very far to the side, feet so soft they need the protection of shoes. Adding insult to injury, he says that Gulliver lacks some of the advantages of other Yahoos, long nails, for example. Gulliver's cleaner than other Yahoos this Houyhnhnm has known, but physically, that's Gulliver's only strong point.
Think back to what you know about the Enlightenment. This was a period
that had an extremely high regard for man and his achievements. A lot
of Enlightenment artwork is a tribute to what was then considered the
perfection of the human body. The Houyhnhnms' evaluation of Gulliver's
body is Swift again taking a shot at the Enlightenment.
Gulliver, at his master's request, talks in some detail about England and Europe. Gulliver describes the War of Spanish Succession and some of the differences between Catholics and Protestants. He also talks about the reasons princes wage wars: to dominate a weak neighbor; to subdue a strong one; to plunder a country that has been all but ruined by famine or a natural disaster; to take over a country in order to have its natural riches. The trade of soldier, says Gulliver, is held to be highly prestigious.
How do you feel about what Gulliver tells his master about war? Do you feel ashamed? Do you feel shock, as the Houyhnhnm does? When Gulliver's amused at his master's reaction ("I could not forbear shaking my head and smiling a little at his ignorance"), do you share his amusement? When he again launches into a description of cannons, guns, bayonets, and the like, do you "flash back" to how you felt when Gulliver talked of gunpowder to the king of Brobdingnag? For his part, the Houyhnhnm says that "instead of reason, [Yahoos] were only possessed of some quality fitted to increase our natural vices...." What do you think of this opinion? Do you think that Swift is speaking through this Houyhnhnm? Or does this sound more like the Gulliver who wrote to Richard Sympson?
At this point Gulliver's master refuses to listen to anything else about war. He has some questions about English law, specifically, how can it be, as Gulliver said, "that the law which was intended for every man's preservation, should be any man's ruin." Gulliver then explains more about the practice of law in his country. He says that lawyers are trained in proving "that white is black, and black is white." Gulliver states that lawyers hold the rest of society as virtual slaves, and are "avowed enemies to all knowledge and learning."
Let's look closely at the lawyer incident. It accomplishes two important things. First, Swift gets to rake lawyers over the coals. Gulliver's case example makes the practice of law seem evil. Everyone damns the lawyers here-Gulliver, his master, and the reader. We are pulled in because Gulliver's tone is not judgmental, though of course his story is, but hilariously so. Too, Gulliver doesn't insist on his expertise on attorneys; in fact, he says his opinion might not be worth much as his only experience with lawyers was as their victim. This softens us-and the Houyhnhnm-to Gulliver; it makes us more receptive to the point of the story. So the second thing this accomplishes is to give Gulliver and his master something to agree on. Gulliver wins back some of the points he lost while talking of war. Do you think maybe he has a chance of really being counted a Houyhnhnm?