Gulliver's Travels

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Gulliver's Travels Book 4, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The master horse is astounded by Gulliver’s account and has a hard time believing the conditions of Houyhnhnms in European society or that they would ever submit to Yahoos. In an apologetic tone, Gulliver explains that the Houyhnhnms in Europe lack reason and that they are subjected by brutal physical training. The master horse is disgusted, but does grant that “reason in time will always prevail against brutal strength,” and thus, if European Yahoos were indeed endowed with reason, it would make sense that they’d be the rulers. Still, he doubts that beings so puny as Gulliver would be capable of “employing that reason in the common offices of life.”
From the master horse’s Houyhnhmn perspective, it is difficult to imagine a society ruled by Yahoos. This conversation also illustrates the Houyhnhmn’s belief in the superiority of moral power over physical power. But in the land of the Houyhnhmns, moral power and physical power are both found in the same bodies (the Houyhnhmns’). It is hard for him to conceptualize human society where moral power is concentrated in physically powerless bodies (human bodies).
Themes
Perspective Theme Icon
Moral vs. Physical Power Theme Icon
Society and the State Theme Icon
The master horse asks Gulliver if all European Yahoos look like him and Gulliver begins proudly to recount his and the other European Yahoos distinctions from the Yahoos the Houyhnhnms know. But the master horse observes that all of these distinctions are in fact “for the worse,” since Gulliver’s body type lacks the Yahoos’ strong nails, tough hands, ability to walk on all fours. He criticizes the unattractiveness and awkwardness of Gulliver’s features and the weakness of his body that needed clothes. The master horse also wonders how the creatures of Europe are able to overcome the natural abhorrence of Yahoos that is born into every living thing. But he lets these matters lie in favor of hearing Gulliver recount his own past.
Although, from Gulliver’s perspective, the European human body’s differences from the Yahoo body indicate its dignity, moral superiority, and civility, the master horse takes a more practical perspective. From this angle, he sees that Gulliver’s body is weaker and less capable than a Yahoo’s body. The master horse’s understanding that every living creature abhors Yahoos shows how dependent “truth” is on perspective: his understanding is not the absolute fact the master horse thinks it is but is instead a byproduct of his cultural perspective.
Themes
Perspective Theme Icon
Moral vs. Physical Power Theme Icon
Society and the State Theme Icon
Truth and Deception Theme Icon
Gulliver describes his past up till the present but has to spend many hours clarifying the criminal backgrounds of the pirate crew who mutinied against him on his last voyage. The master horse has no concept of crime or vice and the Houyhnhmns’ language has no terms for “power, government, war, law, punishment” and many other such things. Thus, it takes a lot of explaining before he understands.
Again, the master horse’s complete ignorance about deception and crime indicates the virtuous state of Houyhnhmn society, in contrast to human society.
Themes
Society and the State Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon
Truth and Deception Theme Icon