Book IV of Gulliver’s Travels follows Gulliver through his final adventure to the Land of the Houyhnhnm’s.
The Houyhnhnm’s are a mythical species of rational and reasonable horses who have created their own language and society. The Houyhnhnms live semi-peacefully alongside another species called the Yahoos. The Yahoos are irrational human like beings with no sense of reason and live off the most basic forms or pure instinct. Through Gulliver’s final journey living and trying to adapt to way of the Houyhnhnm’s, he finds himself trying to become one of the Houyhnhnms more than he is trying to keep his characteristics of a human being. Gulliver tries frantically to convince the Houyhnhnms that he is a being capable of reason and rationality, but they are convinced he is a Yahoo. This is because the Houyhnhnms are beings of pure reason and rationality, they do not possess emotions such as desire, passion, hatred, or any extreme emotion on either ends of the spectrum.
Their main goal in life is the preservation of their species as a whole, they look upon their own kids, wives, and any direct family members with the same benevolence and well-being as they would any other member of their society. On the other hand, the Yahoos are pure instinctual beings who possess the most extreme emotions on both ends of the spectrum, such as greed, selfishness, desire, and passion. Their main goal in life is to preserve the well being of just themselves as individuals. A great example of this is when the Houyhnhnms say if they through a pile of materials and food capable of feeding 50 Yahoos for 10 days, they would all fight and devour everything instead of rationing and saving the food. The comparison of Gulliver to the Yahoos is a pivotal point throughout Book IV of Gulliver’s Travels, the main argument between Gulliver and the Houyhnhnms is whether Gulliver is worthy and capable of being a Houyhnhnm, which means he possesses the power of being reasonable. The Houyhnhnms and many other critics, along with myself also believe that Gulliver in fact, is a Yahoo.
Gulliver’s main goal through the course of Book IV is to be recognized as a Houyhnhnm by the Houyhnhnm race. He frantically tries show his reasonability and rationality in any way shape or form to the Houyhnhnms. As we saw back in Gulliver’s second voyage in Book II with his travels to Brobdingnag; he there tired to explain his humanity and rationality to the Brobdingnagian King, by giving examples of his country’s parliament, constitution, military, and colonialism, and as we remember the king was disgusted by Gulliver’s statements and offering of such a barbaric and powerful weapon as gunpowder. In Book IV we see the same thing, the more Gulliver tries to explain the human races’ rationality with things such as politics, social classes, and government, the more he distances himself from the Houyhnhnms and their human race. During chapter V of Book IV, Gulliver begins to try to give the explanation of why countries go to war with each other, and the basis of the England’s Constitution; but just like in Book II, The Master Houyhnhnm is just as baffled as the Brobdingnagian King was when he first heard the atrocities of war, especially for the reasons Gulliver explained on page 279-280 of chapter V, “He asked me what were the usual causes or motives that made one country go to war with another? I answered they were innumerable… Sometimes the ambition of princes, who never think they have land or people enough to govern; sometimes the corruption of ministers, who engage their master in a war in order to stifle or divert the clamor of the subjects against their evil administration. Difference in opinions has cost many millions of lives: for instance whether flesh be bread, or bread be flesh, whether the juice of a certain berry be blood or wine; whether whistling be a vice or virtue; whether it be better to kiss a post or throw it into the fire; what is the best color for a coat, whether black, white, red, or gray, and whether it should be long or short, narrow or wide, dirty or clean with many more…” Here we have the first instance in which Gulliver distinguishes himself along with the human race, as “Yahoos.
” Essentially Gulliver’s explanation of war is based off of one disposition, “difference in opinion;” the Houyhnhnm’s possess no difference in opinion because they live in what Gulliver describes as a “utopia.” The Houyhnhnms have one goal: to preserve the overall well being of their species as a whole. Yahoos possess the complete opposite goal: to preserve the well being of themselves as individuals. The malice, greed, passion, desire, treacherousness, cunningness, and revengeful qualities that the Yahoos possess are the most instinctual and basic subconscious emotions humans use when entering into war because of difference of opinions, and this is what I believe is one of the distinguishing qualities that makes Gulliver a Yahoo.Gulliver’s constant pursuit of wanting to become and emulate the Houyhnhnms is one of the defining characteristics that most separates him from the Houyhnhnms.
As I mentioned before the Houyhnhnms are a race that has one goal in mind to preserve and protect to continuation of their species. As Paul J. DeGategno and R. Jay Stubblefield explain the Houyhnhnms in their collaborative book, The Analysis of Gulliver’s Travels; the Houyhnhnms are a species who are fully contempt with fulfilling the tasks that help the overall health and well being of their species. Meaning they only follow the values and traditions of the Houyhnhnms. “While Gulliver is attracted to the Houyhnhnms because of their dominance, they (like the Yahoos) embody an extreme- an unrealistic model for him to follow. Along with his revulsion at being identified with the Yahoos, Gulliver’s ridiculous attempt to distinguish himself by imitating the Houyhnhnms illustrates his refusal to recognize his humanity: the duality of his nature as a being whose character is not limited to instinct or reason, exclusively…” Unlike the Houyhnhnms Gullivers actions and decisions are influenced by emotions and instinct whether he accepts it or not, this is the basic attribute of being a human that separates him from the Houyhnhnms.
Some would say that humans having the ability to reason and be rational separates him from the Yahoos, but you have to understand that the Yahoos have the ability to be taught. As seen in Book IV the Houyhnhnms control and use the adult Yahoos as slaves, teaching them basic actions and like moving crops and pulling wagons. K.
M. Jan and Shabnam Firdaus, authors of Perspective on Gulliver’s Travels, give a good explanation on the differences and similarities between Yahoos, Houyhnhnms, and Humans… Like domesticated animals, humans have the ability to be taught; again, people would say that people being taught, and animals being taught are two completely different subjects, because humans have the ability to learn and adapt on their own and domesticated animals like cats or dogs have to be constantly taught to learn new commands and actions. How does this tie back to the point of reasonability and rationality between human beings and Yahoos? Well, like the Houyhnhnms humans can be taught and can learn on their own, they are and can be reasonable and rational; but like the Yahoos, humans can also make impulsive decisions based on emotion and instinct, as well as be taught and learn basic commands and actions. Since humans and Gulliver possess instinctual desires and opinions they mostly will make decisions based emotional desires and instinct because we don’t have the power to be completely reasonable and rational.
Swift uses the society of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos as satirical representations of a utopia and dystopia, this is a perfect metaphor for the past and present times of humanity. The Houyhnhnms are the perfect example of what people want society to be represent, completely reasonable, rational, free of war and famine, and no social classes; which means everyone in the Houyhnhnms society is treated with the same benevolence and grace. On the other end of the spectrum, the Yahoos are the lowest representation of human society; they are filled with greed, selfishness, malice, desire, passion, famine and disease, and social classes that separate communities. Swift wanted to create the two extreme representations of humanity and put them together to help people during the 18th century realize that its acceptable to human because we are the perfect balance between rational and instinctual. Gulliver is corrupted by trying to become perfect like the Houyhnhnms, which intern makes him most definitely a Yahoo by not accepting his place as a human being.