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In Part IV, Chapters 5-7 of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver satirically explains the nature of human society to a dapple-gray horse, who is his “master.” Again and again, Gulliver’s explanations make no sense to the horse. The juxtaposition of Gulliver’s explanations with the horse’s perspectives help produce much of the irony and satire of these chapters. The horse proves far more sensible and even humane than the humans Gulliver describes.
One example of this kind of satiric contrast of perspectives occurs near the very end of Chapter 5. Gulliver has just spent a good deal of time describing the corruption of human lawyers and judges.
Here my master interposing, said, “it was a pity, that creatures endowed with such prodigious abilities of mind, as these lawyers, by the description I gave of them, must certainly be, were not rather encouraged to be instructors of others in wisdom and knowledge.” In answer to which I assured his honour, “that in all points out of their own trade, they were usually the most ignorant and stupid generation among us, the most despicable in common conversation, avowed enemies to all knowledge and learning, and equally disposed to pervert the general reason of mankind in every other subject of discourse as in that of their own profession.”
In this paragraph, the idealism of the horse is satirically contrasted with the cynicism of Gulliver. The two attitudes emphasize one another because of their close juxtaposition: the two opposites illuminate another in a way that satirizes human conduct.
Near the end of Chapter 6, another contrast of perspectives occurs. The horse assumes that the best and strongest humans must be the most aristocratic, but Gulliver satirically explains that just the opposite is the case:
[I explained that] nobility, among us, was altogether a different thing from the idea he had of it; that our young noblemen are bred from their childhood in idleness and luxury; that, as soon as years will permit, they consume their vigour, and contract odious diseases among lewd females; and when their fortunes are almost ruined, they marry some woman of mean birth, disagreeable person, and unsound constitution (merely for the sake of money), whom they hate and despise.
Once again, the contrast produces satire of humans. Finally, in Chapter 7, the horse seems puzzled by the ways humans (and Yahoos) value gold:
My master said, “he could never discover the reason of this unnatural appetite, or how these stones could be of any use to a Yahoo; but now he believed it might proceed from the same principle of avarice which I had ascribed to mankind.”
Once more, then, Swift satirically contrasts the perspective of the wise horse with the perspectives of foolish humans. The wisdom of the horse casts the foolishness of humans in a very satiric light.
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