What view of humanity is presented by the comparison between humans and Yahoos?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Swift can be understood as a misanthrope through his comparison between the Yahoos and human beings in his novel Gulliver's Travels. When Gulliver first encounters Yahoos in the Country of the Houyhnhnms, he is disgusted and offended by the hairy, disheveled, aggressive creatures that walk upright. Initially, Gulliver is unable to see the comparison between the Yahoos and himself. However, the Houyhnhnms immediately notice the similarities in appearance between the unruly Yahoos and the seemingly rational Gulliver. Swift proceeds to describe the humanlike Yahoos as mischievous, malicious beings, who are violent and filthy. Gulliver detests the Yahoos and says,

Upon the whole, I never beheld, in all my travels, so disagreeable an animal, or one against which I naturally conceived so strong an antipathy (Swift, 254).

Gulliver wishes to become more like the rational, morally-upright, peaceful Houyhnhnm horses but cannot fully assimilate into their culture because he is too much like a Yahoo himself. Swift's comparison of humans to Yahoos depicts humanity in a negative light and presents humans as being disingenuous, malevolent people, who are greedy, immoral, disgusting, and wicked.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With the comparison between human beings and the Yahoos, Swift shows that there is very little difference between humans and savage, brutal animals. Further, he implies that we are actually a great deal more savage and brutal than we believe ourselves to be. In describing the Yahoos' hair, bodies, and behaviors—especially their lustfulness and greed—he emphasizes the similarities between the Yahoos and ourselves. We have hair in all the same places that they do, and our nails likewise lack real usefulness; in short, our bodies are much the same and much less suited to protect us from the elements than any other animals'. We are greedy and acquisitive, even when there is more than enough to go around, because we would deny our fellows their share rather than have less ourselves. The implication seems to be that without society's laws, we would certainly behave as the Yahoos do. It is only our rules that protect us from our real, base natures.