A wonderful very clever satire

There is much that people can learn from books written with humorous satire. The four books of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, finished in 1725 and first published the following year, is a good example.[1]

Book 4: Life in Houyhnhnms (The word horses use to describe themselves)

After being home only five months, the wanderlust grasped hold of Gulliver again and he took the job as a captain of a ship. His men conspire against him and set him ashore in an unknown land. There, he sees wild animal-like ignorant beings that resemble hairy humans called Yahoos, and Houyhnhnms, horses that are more intelligent than the most intelligent humans in England. He learns their language, remains with them for three years, tells them about life in England and discovers that the Houyhnhnms consider the English barbarians. The etymology of Houyhnhnms is “perfect of nature.”

The term “yahoo” entered the English language from this book by Swift. It describes a human who is vulgar, lacking understanding, a boor, brute, barbarian, low life. The Houyhnhnms despise the yahoos as the lowest level animal. They use them as we use horses. They notice that Gulliver resembles them, being different only in being less hairy, cuts his hand and toe nails and does not use them as claws, and is more intelligent than them, although not nearly as intelligent as the Houyhnhnms. While they like him and he wants more than anything to stay with them for the rest of his life, they tell him he must leave, lest one day the yahoos persuade him to lead a rebellion against them.

The following are several of the things that Gulliver tells us about the Houyhnhnms:

Reason and lies

The Houyhnhnms regulate all aspects of their life according to reason and never lie. They do not have the concept of virtue because reason alone is enough to govern a rational creature. They are unable to understand when Gulliver describes English society and the ruling class, why the English are not rational creatures, do not use reason whenever they do anything, and why they lie to each other and even to themselves. The use of speech is to make us understand one another, by lying we defeat this purpose. They consider this barbarism of the lowest level.

Dying

By eating sensible foods, they do not become sick and die only of old age at 70 or 75. Some weeks before their death they feel a gradual decay, but without pain. They feel no regret that they are leaving this world; they think of it as if they were going to visit another continent.

Salt

The horse people do not use salt. Gulliver concludes that salt is an effect of luxury. No animal other than humans use it. It was introduced to provoke people to drink,[2] although “it is necessary for preserving flesh in long voyages, or in places remote from great markets…. And as to myself, when I left this country, it was a great while before I could endure the taste of it in any thing I eat.”

Clothing

They could not understand why the English conceal what nature has given to their bodies and why they are ashamed of any part of their body.

Rich

Nor could they understand why a rich man enjoys the fruit of a poor man’s labor.

Education

Males and females receive the same education.

When Gulliver returned to England, he was unable to adjust to its inhabitants, even his own family, and could not even accommodate himself their smell. They were all primitive yahoos.

[1] Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, The Heritage Press, MCMXL.

[2] Gulliver does not explain this further. Perhaps he means that wine merchants introduced the practice of adding salt to foods to make the users thirsty to drink wine.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 40 books.
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