Gulliver's Travels

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The Houyhnhnms Character Analysis

Rational, peaceful, generous, and civilized horses, the Houyhnhnms are ideal beings (at least from Gulliver’s perspective). They are so honest and virtuous that they don’t even have words for things like “evil” and “falsehood.” They live content in their egalitarian and placid society troubled only by the question of how to constrain the Yahoos that live among them.

The Houyhnhnms Quotes in Gulliver's Travels

The Gulliver's Travels quotes below are all either spoken by The Houyhnhnms or refer to The Houyhnhnms. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Gulliver's Travels published in 2003.
Book 4, Chapter 4 Quotes

Power, government, war, law, punishment, and a thousand other things, had no terms wherein that language could express them…

Related Characters: Lemuel Gulliver (speaker), The Houyhnhnms
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Gulliver describes the nature of Houyhnhnm society—a place in which dishonesty or hypocrisy of any kind are rendered impossible by the qualities of language. There's no violence or crime among the Houyhnhnms, and therefore no need for words like war, law, punishment, etc.

In short, the Houyhnhnms' society is so perfect that language itself can't tolerate even a hint of immorality. After traveling the world, Gulliver finally seems to have encountered a totally moral society. And yet, as it's often observed, the Houyhnhnms are also the most boring characters in the entire novel. They're so vanilla that they don't hold our interest in the same way as the Laputians or the Lilliputians--just because they're good doesn't mean they're interesting. The blandness of the Houyhnhnm language suggests Swift's subtle attack on his own characters--if a writer like Swift had no way to communicate war or punishment, he'd have to find a new profession!

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Book 4, Chapter 12 Quotes

I here take a final leave of all my courteous readers…to apply those excellent lessons of virtue which I learned among the Houyhnhmns; to instruct the Yahoos of my own family, is far as I shall find them docible animals; to behold my figure often in a glass, and thus, if possible, habituate myself by time to tolerate the sight of a human creatures…

Related Characters: Lemuel Gulliver (speaker), The Houyhnhnms, The Yahoos
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Gulliver makes a strange series of claims. Touched by his time among the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver finds that he can’t stand human beings anymore—he finally realizes that, deep down, humans (even own wife and children, and even himself) are just filthy animals. Seeing that he has no choice but to live among humans, he resolves to “habituate” himself to humans.

The big question at the end of the novel is—should we take Gulliver seriously? Has Gulliver finally realized the truth (that the human race is barbaric and hopeless?), or is Swift making fun of Gulliver once again for his simple-mindedness? On one hand, it’s easy to imagine Swift agreeing with Gulliver: human beings are foolish, savage, violent, etc.—the entirety of the novel impresses such a point of view on us. And yet Gulliver, in reducing all human beings to Yahoos, seems to neglect the most important part of humanity, our ability to think, create, and (crucially for Swift) write. In the end, Swift seems to have his cake and eat it, too: the only thing dumber than believing that all humans are good, kind, and civilized is believing that all humans are barbarians.

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The Houyhnhnms Character Timeline in Gulliver's Travels

The timeline below shows where the character The Houyhnhnms appears in Gulliver's Travels. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface 2: “A Letter from Captain Gulliver to his Cousin Sympson”
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...says he respects the Queen, he insists he never would have praised her to the Houyhnhnms). He complains, too, that Sympson has muddled the details of his sea travel. He calls... (full context)
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...Gulliver refers to human beings as Yahoos and laments the perverse world in which degenerate Houyhnhnms are enslaved by Yahoos. Though Gulliver acknowledges that he, too, is a Yahoo, he notes... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 1
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...Yahoo, which he repeats. The horses are impressed and try to teach him the word Houyhnhnm. The horses depart, one beckoning Gulliver to follow him. (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 3
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Gulliver proceeds to study the Houyhnhnm’s language under the tutelage of the master horse, a kind and patient teacher who marvels... (full context)
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The Houyhnhnms continue to think that Gulliver’s clothes are a part of his body and Gulliver takes... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 4
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...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.... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 7
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...justifies his grim portrait of humankind to the reader, explaining that his time among the Houyhnhnms had opened his eyes to the evils of human nature and human society and that... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 8
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Gulliver explains that, among the Houyhnhmns , the Yahoos are kept in kennels, sent to dig up roots and catch small... (full context)
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Gulliver goes on to describe the ways of the Houyhnhnms. Their reason is so perfect and absolute that they never have disagreements or differences of... (full context)
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The Houyhnhnms practice family planning so that each marriage is arranged by family and friends of a... (full context)
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The Houyhnhnms’ children are educated in “temperance, industry, exercise…cleanliness,” “strength, speed, and hardiness,” and both genders receive... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 9
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Gulliver recounts the proceedings of one of the Houyhnhnms’ councils as relayed to him by the master horse. The council debated the question “whether... (full context)
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Gulliver proceeds to detail more of the Houyhnhmns cultural features. They make excellent wound dressings; they make good practical use of astronomy; they... (full context)
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Gulliver explains that the Houyhnhnms have no words for evil and thus, to express anything bad, they “borrow from the... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 10
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Gulliver explains that, although he didn’t feel so fond of the Houyhnhmns when he first arrived among them, the more he learned from and about them, the... (full context)
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One day, the master horse sends for Gulliver and explains that, at the council, the Houyhnhnms had confirmed that it wasn’t right for him to live with Gulliver, a Yahoo, and... (full context)
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...Gulliver explains that, “if these censurers” only knew “the noble and courteous disposition of the Houyhnhnms, they would soon change their opinion.” (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 12
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...and that humans would be no match for the Brobdingnagans, the Laputians’ floating island, or the Houyhnhmns’ hooves and strength. Then he adds that he actually had another reason for not conquering... (full context)
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...he really can’t stand. He points out that pride is a foreign concept to the Houyhnhnms and they “are no more proud of the good qualities they possess” than Gulliver is... (full context)