Term Paper: Gulliver's Travels Jonathon Swift

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[. . .] The Houyhnhnms are confused, as these actions are useless in their society.

Through this chapter, Swift is asking his readers to think about whether they were created by language, or whether language created them. Swift discusses several features of true-reason to convey to his readers that living by reason-based laws and logic is a feasible reality. However, he also shows, by using the Houyhnhnm society, that living in such a society would not make the society a perfect society.

Swift does this by making the Houyhnhnms imperfect. While they were superior beings to both the Yahoos and Gulliver, they lacked emotion, humor, creativity, love and passion. Swift suggests that their flawed personalities are what truly made them capable of true reason.

Swift's ideas show that emotions and love are not needed on the Houyhnhnm island. Therefore, their society, which is based on true reason, works well. However, humans need emotion and creativity, and cannot make decisions without using emotion and opinion. Therefore, this type of society would force humans to live like robots.

Before Swift was abandoned on the Houyhnhnm island, he traveled to Lilliput, where the tiny (in body and mind) Lilliputians were mean, vain, petty and cruel, their king and court. This was clearly a parody of their English king and queen.

In his next voyage, to Brobdingnag, a group of giants made Gulliver seem very small. In this scenario, Gulliver represented the typical Englishman. When Gulliver explained to this group how the English society and governmental system worked, they were horrified at the injustices, pretentious nature and irrationalities of England.

In a third voyage, Gulliver went to Laputa, a flying island that was occupied by foolish philosophers and scientists. Swift satirizes the scientists of the island as impractical figures that float above normal people and lack a connection to the real world. They engage in seemingly absurd experiments and attempt to destroy traditional life.

While Swift criticizes modern science, he does not suggest abandoning it, as he shows through his negative portrayal of uncivilized men through the Yahoos. The Yahoos are as brutal as Hobbes believed that the lives of men would be in a state of nature. The Yahoos fought tooth and nail for food and precious stones. They derived great pleasure from eating an intoxicating root. Their tribes are led by most hideous creatures of the group, who clearly favor those who resemble them. Because they are ruled by passion, they lack reason. One female Yahoo, who sees Gulliver from afar, attempts immediately to copulate with him.

Rousseau (1987) justified the constraints of society by recognizing the dimensions of the bonds, saying that man is not bound to obey any but legitimate constraints of society. While man cannot return to his original state of freedom, which can only be found in a state of nature, he can strive to retain as much freedom as possible while still bearing constraints, which are necessary for an efficient modern society. The Yahoos represent man in a state of nature, with no restraints.

Swift's Houyhnhms are portrayed as an ideal that failed. While their intentions may have been good, they are unable to carry out their desired acts because their pride is too strong. Swift's satire is at its richest when a newly born Houyhnhm exclaims, "With this sort of entrance, what must I expect from the rest of my life!" (p. 178).

The Yahoos are the Houyhnhnns because they have all the emotions and opinions of humans, yet none of the reason. Swift is truly showing two groups that represent man state of nature and in society.

This book was written during the Enlightenment, when the theories of Kant and Rousseau were widely accepted. Swift believed that humans were full of pride and greed, and suggested that this made them blind to their own imperfections. Swift felt that the philosophies concentrated too much on the corruption of institutions and ignored the basic problems of human nature itself. Swift did not believe that humans were capable of true reason and aimed to expose the flaws in the philosophical ideals of the Enlightenment era.


Kant, Immanuel. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Ethical Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1983.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. New York: Penguin, 1987.

Swift, J. Gulliver's Travels. Gulliver's… [END OF PREVIEW]

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