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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
We learn more about the Houyhnhnms in this chapter, and we learn as well that Gulliver's days among them are numbered.
The most important question in the Houyhnhnm grand assembly is, Should the Yahoos be exterminated from the face of the earth? Can you imagine the U.S. Senate debating such a question? Do you think governing bodies should consider such a measure as a means of keeping order?
That the Yahoos are destructive, disgusting, and hateful, no one in the assembly denies. The only alternative to killing them off is proposed by Gulliver's master. After expounding on Gulliver's virtues-Gulliver, he says, is squarely between Yahoos and Houyhnhnms, as he has "a tincture" (a bit) of reason-he proposes something first described to him by Gulliver. His idea is to castrate male Yahoos. This would make them more manageable generally, and prevent them from breeding. In time the Yahoo race would just die out. (Gulliver, remember, mentioned the gelding, or castration, of horses to his Houyhnhnm master.)
This isn't all that's going on in the grand assembly, but Gulliver's
master doesn't tell him the rest in this chapter. Have you any clues as
to what is being kept from Gulliver?
Gulliver tells us more about Houyhnhnm ways. They don't read or write, so all knowledge is passed on orally. Yet Gulliver says that they are very poetic, that their similes are apt, their descriptions exact, and their sentiments exalted. Their verses praise Houyhnhnm notions of friendship, benevolence, bodily strength. What do you want from poetry? Why do you read it, or write it? Would Houyhnhnm verse be satisfying to you?
Houyhnhnms die of old age. They don't mourn the deaths of those close to them, nor does anyone regret that he has to die. Gulliver tells the story of a Houyhnhnm who came to his master's late because she had to arrange for her husband to be buried, as he'd died that morning. During the visit she was no less cheerful than anyone else.
What do you think of this? Philosophers, poets, artists, and scientists have long held that it is man's consciousness of his death, and his complex feelings toward it, that set him apart from other animals. Do you accept this? Does the Houyhnhnm attitude toward death and dying strike you as less than human? Does it strike you, as it apparently does Gulliver, that it is admirably rational, and something to strive for?
Where do you think Swift stands on this?