Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
After the Houyhnhnm's description of the Yahoos in his country, Gulliver decides he needs to study them firsthand. Gulliver is given a sorrel nag as a protector as the Houyhnhnm doesn't believe that his visitor is altogether a Yahoo.
Gulliver finds baby Yahoos to be squalling, scratching imps. He also finds them smelly, with an odor resembling that of a weasel or a fox. Gulliver describes the excrement of a Yahoo baby with the same disgust he had for himself when he was in Brobdingnag. He takes care to wash thoroughly before seeing his master.
Gulliver also finds the Yahoos to be "the most unteachable of all animals," and says so in the words his master used earlier. Gulliver is trying to imitate his master.
Gulliver faces a crisis, however, when a female Yahoo is sexually attracted to him while he's swimming, and tries to attack him in the water. Needless to say, Gulliver is violently disgusted by her, but must admit that he can no longer pretend he isn't a Yahoo (animals mate naturally only within their own species).
How does Gulliver deal with this crisis? He tells us that the Yahoo who had
designs on him was a good deal more attractive than the other Yahoos,
and then he abruptly changes the subject, shifting attention away from
himself. Clearly Gulliver is not ready, willing, or able to come to terms
with the ramifications of this incident. Instead, he gives us a rundown
of Houyhnhnm traits and ways. This enables him to distance himself further
from the Yahoos, and lends him status, since he's once again a tour guide,
telling us things we couldn't know without him. Gulliver's reaction to
the crisis is to salvage his pride.
In the process we learn that the Houyhnhnms value reason beyond all else. They are wholly governed by it. And because there is no such thing as passion and self-interest among the Houyhnhnms, there is no such thing as dispute, doubt, opinions, argument. No "gut feelings" get in the way here. Is this reason as you know it?
The Houyhnhnms consider friendship and benevolence to be the two principal virtues. Complete strangers are treated with the decency and consideration given to close friends and relatives. Houyhnhnms don't think about romance, courtship, or love; marriages are based on efforts to strengthen the species. (A strong male will marry an attractive female, or vice versa, so that the offspring will have both traits.) Couples mate only in order to produce one offspring of each sex; after they have accomplished this they no longer have sexual relations. All marriages are arranged, yet infidelity and other marital problems don't exist. Couples live together in benevolent friendship, with feelings no more intense for each other than for anyone else they might know. If one partner is widowed before the pair has had two offspring, the survivor mates with a suitable Houyhnhnm in order to make his or her quota. And if one couple has two sons, for example, and another has two daughters, they exchange colts to even things up. The same is done with food-if a family is short, the community contributes so that everyone has the same amount to eat.
The Houyhnhnms certainly live differently from the Yahoos here. Which Houyhnhnm ways appeal to you? Are there any so far that disturb you or turn you off? Would you, like Gulliver, wish to be a Houyhnhnm? Think about the reasons for your reactions.