Gulliver's giant feet walking in the diminuative forest of the lilliputians

Gulliver's Travels

by Jonathan Swift

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What is the main satirical point in part 4 of Gulliver's Travels?

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The main satirical point in part 4 of Gulliver’s Travels is essentially the same as that in the first three books, though it is perhaps even more bluntly expressed. That point is to ridicule and deprecate humans by pointing out our foolish and despicable behavior. In part 4, this is achieved by making Swift’s ideal beings (the wise and virtuous Houyhnhnms) resemble horses, while the Yahoos (the filthy, degenerate creatures they regard as fit only for slavery) look almost exactly like people.

Gulliver reports that the Houyhnhnms initially mistake him for a Yahoo. He differs from one in a few small matters: his smooth white skin, the hairlessness of most of his body, and his habit of walking upright. Otherwise, he resembles the creature perfectly. The method of satire is very similar to that of part 1, in which it was the diminutive size of the Lilliputians which exposed them to the satirist’s ridicule. In part 4, the brutish nature of the Yahoos is used to ridicule the pride of human beings. When Gulliver returns to England at the end of part 4, he says that he finds it difficult to be reconciled to the company of Yahoos (by which he means all the people he encounters, including his wife). Above all, he cannot understand how such a degraded creature can be proud of itself:

My reconcilement to the Yahoo kind in general might not be so difficult, if they would be content with those vices and follies only which nature has entitled them to...but when I behold a lump of deformity and diseases, both in body and mind, smitten with pride, it immediately breaks all the measures of my patience; neither shall I be ever able to comprehend how such an animal, and such a vice, could tally together.

The aim of Swift’s satire here is, as ever, to mortify the pride of humanity.

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Swift satirizes the assumption that humans are more intelligent and rational than other species when Gulliver meets up with the Houyhnhnms on an island south of Australia. The Houyhnhnms are horses, but they have devised a society far more orderly, sensible, and peaceful than that of European humans. In this world, the humans are savages called Yahoos, and the horses run society. Swift thus satirizes or pokes fun at European notions that European humans are innately superior to all other beings. This has been understood as both an early attempt at defending animal rights, and, more commonly, as an attack on the dismissive treatment of non-European populations by the Europeans.

This section, however, also satirizes the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms are depicted as too rational and too lacking in emotion. This satirizes rationalism—we might think, in parallel, of the narrator of Swift's "A Modest Proposal ," who values human life less than a cost-effective solution to the problem of poverty. The Houyhnhnms don't seem to place much value on individual life: they don't grieve the death of close relations, for example, and they will trade...

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off their children with one another to achieve the ideal family of one girl and one boy without seeming to feel any pain at losing their own child.

Swift also satirizes Gulliver's extremism when he returns to European civilization. Gulliver misses the point of what the Houyhnhnms have to offer when he spends his time in a barn trying to talk to the horses and rejecting human contact. He mistakes the outward form of the Houyhnhnms for their inward intelligence. He misses the good that exists in people like Don Pedro, and now sees all humans as Yahoos. A wiser person might glean the wisdom of Houyhnhnms' way of life and try to bring it back to human society. He might realize that all cultures have strengths and weaknesses.

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In Part Four, Swift satirizes the European concept that humans are reasonable, intelligent, civilized beings who are made in the image of God and rightfully preside over the world. He also satirizes the European prejudice toward other cultures and races. In Part Four, Gulliver arrives in Houyhnhnm Land, where rational, civilized horses preside over the environment and are superior to the Yahoos, which resemble humans. The Yahoos are portrayed as wicked, malevolent, dirty beings, who act like savages and are utterly despicable. Gulliver is appalled by their appearance and behavior and initially cannot see how he resembles them. Gulliver is also shocked to discover that the Houyhnhnms are eloquent, intelligent beings, and he attempts to explain how horses are owned by humans in Europe. In Gulliver's conversations with his Houyhnhnm master, Swift satirizes Europe's legal system, its affinity for war, and the natural vices of its citizens. Swift's portrayal of Europeans is scathing, and he challenges the popular European concept that humans are intelligent, superior, civil beings made in the image of God. Through Gulliver's interactions with the morally-upright, peaceful Houyhnhnms, Swift satirizes European prejudice towards other cultures and races.

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Part 4 of Gulliver's Travels deals with Gulliver's discovery of a land where horses (Houyhnhnms) are as intelligent as humans, and humans (Yahoos) are as unintelligent as animals. The satire is found in Gulliver's comparisons of the Yahoos to his own human civilization, deciding that the Houyhnhnm culture is superior because of its focus on rational thinking and lack of lying. Swift contrasts the Houyhnhnm prejudices against Yahoos, as well as Gulliver's initial assumption that the Houyhnhnms have human masters, with the very real issue of racial biases and prejudice based entirely on physical differences. The Houyhnhnms represent a non-European race of intelligent creatures, entirely the equal of "civilized" humans, without the drive for war or lying that humans have; meanwhile, the Yahoos, which resemble humans, are no better than animals in their demeanor and intellect. In this manner, Swift shows the fallacy of assuming that other people, regardless of their physical characteristics, are inferior to a culture's accepted norms.

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