What are Gulliver’s Misanthropic Views in Book 4?

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Gulliver's Misanthropic Views in Book 4 of Gulliver's Travels
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver’s Misanthropic Views in Book 4 : Gulliver’s Travels by the Anglo-Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift is not a fanciful product of a deranged mind. Gulliver’s Travels is considered a serious literature unique in its universal appeal. A careful look into the story shows a well-knitted structure, a well-defined characterization probing deep into human psychology. “I hate and detest that animal called man…” This is a portion of a sentence from a letter of the world famous satirist Jonathan Swift to Alexander Pope.

“The Gulliver’s Travels” is Swift’s masterpiece, a universal satire satirizing the mankind as a whole. Gulliver’s Travels examines human nature through a misanthropic lens and through satire examines the changes English society was undergoing. His critical work has caused a lot of discord as a satirical commentary on the political and social issues of England in the eighteenth century. Gulliver’s trips lead him to places of opposite societies causing an examination of human nature itself. While the character of Gulliver eventually reveals himself as a misanthrope, the author Jonathan Swift does not. Actually there is very little in Gulliver’s Travels, including in the fourth part, to signify that he shares Gulliver’s outlook on the hopelessness of humanity. The fourth voyage of Gulliver’s Travels is easily read as an attack on the human species because of the clear satire regarding the Yahoos.

Swift divides man into his animal side, in the Yahoos, and into his logical side, in the Houyhnhnms. By showing how each acts when separated, the hidden attributes are highlighted. The animal, instinctual, and primitive components of human nature that we generally prefer to ignore are called concentrated on. In the land of Houyhnhnms we see the three types of species. Yahoos represent the worst form of mankind with complelte absence of ralionality. They are portrayed as an abominable creatures. Whereas, Houyhnhnms are “The perfection of Nature” over against the repulsiveness of Yahoos. Lastly, Gulliver himself represents the human beings a product of European civilization and in his discourses with the Master Houyhnham human race is portrayed in a debase manner. Their meanness and detestable qualities become acute when contrasted against the noble horses.

In the part IV Gulliver emerges as a violent hater of mankind. His cynical views are betrayed to highest degree. The baseness and immorality of human beings enrage Gulliver so much so that he ultimately lays his strong faith in the superiority of the horses-the Houyhnhnms- negating the superiority of human race. However, we should remember Gulliver is the mere mouthpiece whose denunciation of human beings is part of Swift’s satirical design. Gulliver’s antipathy is so intense that even the familiar company of his family turns to be loathsome.

It is significant that Gulliver’s misanthropy at the end is not the result of any development of his knowledge of human beings over what he has had before; it is he after all who expounds to his Honyhnhnm master all those melancholy facts about men’s “actions and passions” that play so large a part in their conversations. Gulliver resents that people in his country are ruined by the corrupt legal system, by their disgraceful habits like drinking, gratification of sex, gambling. They are basically treacherous by nature. They commit murder, theft, robbery, forgery, rape and sodomy, Gulliver opines that these depraved activities of human race show their lust for power, riches, viciousness and jealousy.

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Character Sketch of Houyhnhnms in Gulliver’s Travels

Swift’s this presentation of an impossible physical smallness of the human race is desired to show the possible mental smallness. Swift’s most serious attack on mankind lies in the fourth book, A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms, where he introduces us with two sorts of inhabitants- Yahoos or monkeys, representing mankind and Houyhnhnms, representing horses. But the most objectionable thing is that Yahoos have been shown to be deformed, ugly and inferior in both physical and mental make-up, while the Houyhnhnms are ‘endued with a proportionable degree of reason’ and ‘orderly and rational, acute and judicious’ . The Houyhnhnms are ‘the Perfection of Nature’ while “the yahoos … were observed to be the most unteachable of all brutes”.

In Part IV we also observe how Gulliver inveighs against the government machineries. Gulliver marvels at how lawyers have the incredible capability to distort truth. Their expertise in speaking lie is demonstrated according to the amount of money they are paid. Judges, Gulliver states, are responsible for resolving property disputes and trying the criminals. They hold their honourable past by their sincerity and legal accumen.. They are generally old and inactive, incapable of studying the case in-depth. Instead they waste time on assessing those points which are irrelevant to the case. They do so raising much noises. Gulliver denounces their follies and reports that for their hateful creeds they are most aversed sect in the human society. They in fact warp knowledge and learning and even distort man’s natural faculty of reasoning. Lawyers are generally disdained for their evil practice and Gulliver has shed light on their darker side.

Gulliver now targets his diatribe against the doctors. He tells to his master the quaint habit of human being who eats when he is not hungry and drinks when he is not thirsty. They can pass night without having proper meal instead gulping strong liquor. They go to the whores who are infected with diseases and these diseases get transmitted to their clients and thereby gradually infecting his son. To stop such infections doctors are there with their remedies but they do not come into use. Gulliver suggests a different function of these doctors in human society. According to him doctors are easily available to give company to those who are tired of their life-partners. For a sake of change they always come in handy. They have high-profile clients that ranges from sons, eminent ministers of state and even a princess. In this context we can say Gulliver’s statements lack the fair judgement of this particular profession. Certainly there are some pseudo-doctors who have no knowledge of human physiology and medicines and deceive their patients of their money but throughout the ages we have seen physicians’ contribution to society. The modern study of medicine had been shaped by them. Its evolution did not take place in a day. It is only the outcome of their hardship and dedication that went on and still going on, ages after ages.

Now Gulliver expatiate the situations and reasons that cause war. He tells that it is the boundless ambition of princes and malignity of the minister that lead to devastating war. The clash in opinions gives birth to war that takes away millions of lives. A war breaks between countries when there is disparity in power. A balance of power ensures peace. A poor, starving country fights with the country which is rich and The hunger of the poor country clashes with the pride of the rich country. Next, Gulliver relates the destructions caused by war ships immersed with a thousand men; both the side lost twenty thousand men; people died groaning in pain; limbs are hurled in the air, desperate flight; wild pursuit; battlefield covered with human dead bodies and the animals like dogs, wolves and scavanger birds feeding on them. This description is lurid representalion of the massacre caused by war. This aftermath of war is not an exaggeration. In this context we can say Gulliver remains true to the facts.

Gulliver explains the financial condition in his country and the discrepancies that lie between the rich and poor classes of people. Such gulf is created by the unfair division of wealth. The result of hard labour of the poor people is enjoyed by the rich class. However, this poor and deprived class constitutes the major partion of population. This poor class, to earn their livelihood, engage themselves in ignoble professions like begging, robbing, stealing, deceiving, pimping, flattering, fawning, lying, forging, gambling, whoring, libelling, poisoning and etc. Here, Swift gives a partial view of society. Of course it is a grim reality that poor men are always deprived and denied of their basic requirements but to meet their ends, they generally work hard instead of adopting unfair means. A society cannot sustain without them. However, the mercenary purpose of marriage that Gulliver states is perfectly right. The practice of giving and getting dowry shows people’s avarice.

Gulliver now spews venom against the ministers of state. The chief minister, in his opinion, is a man of strong constitution who has no tender feelings and resolutely pursues two things in life–one is money, another one is power. To live up to his dream of power and wealth he can go to any extent not even hesitating to use his own wife, daughter, or sister to this end. He may become chief minister by beguiling his predecessor or leading an upheaval against court. The minister under his leadership are equally unscrupulous. They are impudent, liar and greedy to have bribes. Such description of minister matches with the poiltical scenario of every countries. Political leaders are known for their hypocrisy. On the pretext of the welfare of country they basically indulge in luxury, accumulate wealth at the cost of people’s money.

Yahoos are mean creatures who represent mankind. They are savage, and irrational. They have uncouth appearance but their physique possesses strong resemblance with human beings. In fact these creatures represent the ugly aspects of human beings. Their presence is despicable as told by Gulliver. They are filthy and have strong proclivity for mischief. Gulliver’s master in his conversation with him (Gulliver) refers to their special liking for shining stones. an allusion to human craving for diamonds and precious stones. From his conversation we also come to know about their fondness for food, their liking for liquor and their poor health condition as they often fall sick. Next, he mentions how lustful these female yahoos are who use every trick to entice their male counterparts and gratify their lust. In this context we must say Gulliver’s whole attitude to the Yahoos, in fact, is inconsistent. He had seen degenerate human beings back home in Bristol and had no doubt found them unpleasant; his revulsion towards the Yahoos would certainly have grown the more he saw of them but his instinctive disgust is something we find difficult to accept; just as we find it difficult to believe that his memory of normal human beings would have been so completely obliterated, ever after three years’ absence

It has been pointed out that if Swift was trying to create a sort of Utopia in his account of the life of ‘reason’ led by the Houyhnhnms it was a singularly dull and unhuman Utopia. These noble horses never experience love or hope, curiosity or passion; they take no pleasure in sex and feel no more affection for their own offspring — strictly limited to two per ‘family’ — than for other foals. The only reference to music in their lives is the rather comic idea of a song composed in honour of the victors in their running races; they apparently have no conception of beauty, other than the comeliness of their chosen mates, and even their poetry is apparently restricted to ‘exalted notions of friendship and benevolence’ and the praise of successful athletes. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that Swift was more concerned to satirize human nature in the Yahoos than to arouse our respect and admiration for the Houyhnhnms.

The Houyhnhnm life, though appropriate to animal’s lacking man’s passions, can hardly be intended as a literal suggestion of how man shall live. But in the Houyhnhnms, Swift has isolated for serious consideration the rational part that supposedly distinguishes man from brutes. Swift seems to be saying, “If man were rational, if he could truly be ruled by reason, he would live as do the noble horses;” and, thus considered, the Houyhnhnm life is relevant in man’s self examination, self-judgement, and determination toward reform. Man could live somewhat nearer the ideal of pure reason.

Through the character of Gulliver, Swift voiced his denunciation against the follies of mankind but Gulliver’s ultimate transformation to an absolute misanthrope should not be identified with Swift’s misanthropy. In this context we cannot imagine him as someone preferring to pass his time with the horses in a stable rather than in the familiar company of his nearest kin. Gulliver’s misanthropy borders on insanity whereas Swift sees his misanthropy as an altruistic effort for the upliftment of mankind.

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