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Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

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Humankind as the Balance of Rationality and Passion

“A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms”

Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels takes place in four parts, each of which describe Gulliver’s adventures with fantastical species of foreign nations. The search for Swift’s meaning has been a controversial one; the novel has been interpreted along a wide spectrum ranging from children’s story to a satire of human nature. The greatest debate lies within the realm of satire, and Part Four of Gulliver’s Travels, “A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms,” is just one area in which critics argue for a variety of satirical meanings. Critics traditionally argue for the “hard” interpretation which posits the strictly rational nature of the Houyhnhnms as a positive ideal to be strived for, and the Yahoos’ passionate nature as innately gruesome and to be avoided. I argue however, that Swift uses the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos to represent the virtues of rationality and passion taken to the extreme, as ultimately crippling. Although the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos are innately good and embody admirable characteristics, their inability to incorporate the opposing motives of passion or reason causes them to display undesirable characteristics. Pedro de Mendez is introduced to portray the ideal man as one who balances passion and rationality, while Gulliver represents the dysfunctional state of a man in denial of the complexities of his own human nature.

The Houyhnhnms, although largely seen as virtuous, exhibit a variety of characteristics that are greatly looked down upon by modern human society. E.E. Sullivan, author of “Houyhnhnms and Yahoos: From Technique to Meaning,” emphasizes this notion when he writes:

The Houyhnhnms’ particular ...

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... 26.2 (1965): 273-79. JSTOR. Web. 15 May 2011.

Nichols, Mary P. "Rationality and Community: Swift's Criticism of the Houyhnhnms." The Journal of Politics 43.4 (1981): 1153-169. JSTOR. Web. 15 May 2011.

Radner, John B. "The Struldbruggs, the Houyhnhnms, and the Good Life." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 17.3 (1977): 419-28. JSTOR. Web. 15 May 2011.

Sullivan, E. E. "Houyhnhnms and Yahoos: From Technique to Meaning." Studies in English LIterature, 1500-1900 24.3 (1984): 497-511. JSTOR. Web. 15 May 2011.

Swift, Jonathon. Part 4. A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms. 1735. Ed. Kevin Dettmar. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch. Vol. 1C. Pearson Education, 2010. 2381-426. Print.

Williams, Kathleen M. "Gulliver's Voyage to the Houyhnhnms." The John Hopkins University Press 18.4 (1951): 275-86. JSTOR. Web. 15 May 2011.
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