Part 4, Chapters 9–12

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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1016

Chapter 9

Toward the end of his time among the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver’s master relays to him the proceedings of one of their national councils. The question for debate is “whether the Yahoos should be exterminated from the face of the earth.” There is an eloquent speech for the proposition, dwelling on the many vices of the Yahoos, and several other Houyhnhnms agree. Gulliver’s master then speaks, advocating the extermination of Yahoos without killing by means of castrating the young, which would render them tame, as well as ensuring that the species dies out over time.

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Gulliver gives a brief account of some aspects of Houyhnhnm culture. He says that their poetry is magnificent, though he does not produce a specimen, and their architecture, though very simple, is sturdy and convenient. They can use the hollow between their pastern and the hoof of their fore-foot with great dexterity, even threading needles in this manner. The Houyhnhnms generally live to the age of about seventy or seventy-five years and are not afraid of death, nor do they have any other emotions about it. They have no words for anything evil in their language and have taken to using the word “Yahoo” as an epithet to denote badness.

Chapter 10

Gulliver describes his little home, a room six yards from his master’s house, which he has furnished simply with objects which came to hand. He has happily accepted the status of a servant in the household, enjoying nothing more than listening to the conversation of the Houyhnhnms and never speaking himself unless asked a question. He says that all the knowledge of any value which he now possesses was acquired from the lectures of his master and the discussions of his friends. He has now come to regard his countrymen, and the human race in general, as Yahoos, and he is even horrified by his own reflection when he catches a glimpse of it and sees a Yahoo.

One day, Gulliver’s master tells him that he is being exhorted (for no Houyhnhnm is directly compelled) by a decree of the general assembly, to send Gulliver back to his own country, since the other Houyhnhnms regard it as inappropriate and contrary to reason to keep a creature so like a Yahoo as part of his household.

Gulliver is deeply grieved, but he has no choice but to start work on a boat and make preparations for departure. He stitches together the skins of Yahoos and stretches them over a wooden frame to make a large canoe. The sail is made from the skins of younger Yahoos, a lighter and more flexible material. Having filled his canoe with provisions and taken his leave of his master, Gulliver sets sail again.

Chapter 11

When he leaves the country of the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver’s plan is to find an uninhabited island which has everything necessary to sustain life and live out his days there. He thinks this preferable to being “first minister in the politest court of Europe,” since he has acquired such a horror of Yahoos, in which category he now includes the entirety of the human race. He eventually comes to a land which appears to be uninhabited, but after a few days he finds that people live nearby, and they attack him and drive him away. Shortly after this, he encounters some Portuguese mariners, who take him to their ship. The captain, Pedro de Mendez, treats him with great kindness and courtesy, but Gulliver’s hatred of Yahoos continues to be so strong that he remains silent and sullen in the face of civility.

As the voyage continues, Gulliver tells de Mendez his story and expresses some appreciation of the captain’s goodness and wisdom, though he retains his automatic antipathy to anything that looks or smells like a Yahoo. He has discovered by this point that all human beings smell bad to him and arouse this automatic dislike, regardless of their conduct. The ship arrives in Lisbon in November 1715, and Gulliver stays at the captain’s house. He is initially terrified to go outside and mix with the Yahoos, but gradually he finds that he is less frightened, though his hatred and contempt increase. Eventually, he goes out, with his nose stopped with rue or tobacco to disguise the smell of Yahoo.

The captain prevails upon Gulliver to return to England, where his wife and children are overjoyed to see him, having thought him dead. He, however, is disgusted by their presence and cannot bear to think that he is the husband and father of Yahoos.

Chapter 12

Gulliver begins his final chapter by assuring the reader of the truth of everything he has written and censuring those writers who take advantage of the general reader’s ignorance of the world to publish highly embellished or entirely false accounts. He hopes his work will have a salutary moral effect by holding up the Houyhnhnms as examples of wisdom and virtue for the instruction of the world. He acknowledges that some will think a loyal subject of the crown should have helped the government of England to conquer those territories he has discovered. However, he gives various reasons for not doing so: Lilliput, for instance, would be hardly worth acquiring, while Brobdingnag would be too challenging to conquer. More fundamentally than this, however, he has come to think that conquest of foreign nations is an immoral business, comparable to piracy.

Last week, Gulliver says, he began to permit his wife to sit with him at dinner. However, the smell of Yahoo is still so offensive to him that he keeps her at the other end of a long table and continues to stuff his nose with sweet-smelling herbs. He has become somewhat less disgusted with Yahoo-kind in general but is still puzzled and appalled that such a degraded creature can be proud of itself. The Houyhnhnms, who live under the government of reason, are not proud of their wisdom and virtue, and Gulliver has come to regard the pride of humanity as the one vice he cannot excuse or endure.

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Part 4, Chapters 4–8