Can you explain Gulliver's madness in part IV of Gulliver's Travels?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the end of the novel, Gulliver is banished from the home of his beloved Houyhnhnms, the rational horse beings. He then returns to England and descends into madness. He doesn't want to be around his fellow humans, rejects English society, and prefers life in a barn with the horses...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

At the end of the novel, Gulliver is banished from the home of his beloved Houyhnhnms, the rational horse beings. He then returns to England and descends into madness. He doesn't want to be around his fellow humans, rejects English society, and prefers life in a barn with the horses to being in the society of people.

Critics have often interpreted this as Gulliver's gullible tendency to extremism: it is a flaw of his personality that he is so taken in by the Houyhnhnms that he can't see that they are imperfect too: they are often too cold-blooded and rational in their analysis of situations. It also shows his inability to adapt to circumstances.

But his "madness" on arriving home is also a manifestation of having seen the light and finally realized that Europeans have a tremendous number of problems to overcome. Gulliver and the reader have to come to grips with the idea that the Europeans are not the most perfect of people and have much they could learn from other cultures, such as the Houyhnhnm. Gulliver does not do a good job of dealing with this problem, but at least he acknowledges that supposedly civilized Europeans too often act like yahoos.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The author Jonathan Swift used Gulliver's madness to make a satirical comment on the less than ideal qualities found in humanity and how humans can distance themselves from (or not recognize themselves) in it.

Gulliver descends into madness in part IV when he interacts with the Houyhnhnm and Yahoos.  He considers the (horse) Houhnhnms to be refined and ideal.  However, he recognizes his own human nature in the beast-like (human) Yahoos.  

His refusal to acknowledge and accept this is seen when he becomes enamored with the Houyhnhnm culture and the fact that they do not lie, they live in houses, are poetic, avoid evil and treat each other with respect.

The Yahoos are so repugnant to Gulliver and his idea of self that he clings to the Houyhnhnms as a picture of perfection.

He successfully imitates the Houyhnhnm as closely as possible and lives among them.

While he mentally sees that humanity (in the form of Yahoos) can be repulsive, his madness distances him from it.  Instead he has pride in being "different," acting like the Houyhnhnms he so admires.

Gulliver planned on spending the rest of his days with the Houyhnhnms practicing their virtues.  Then, something entirely out of his control happens when the Houyhnhnms ask him to depart and he is banished for being a Yahoo. 

He had come to regard his friends and family back home as disgusting as the Yahoos.  When he eventually returns home he cannot stand the sight or smell of them, preferring the company of horses. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team