Gulliver's Travels


Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels: Book 4, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

After five months in England (just long enough to impregnate his wife), Gulliver sets out to sea again, this time as captain of the Adventure, an offer made to him by a merchantman. Several men die early on in the voyage and the replacements Gulliver hires, he realizes too late, had been pirates in the past. The crew mutinies, imprisoning Gulliver below deck and eventually abandoning him on an unknown shore.
Gulliver suffers because he is unable to see the true character of the men he hires. Although Gulliver, as captain, possesses moral power over the ship, his authority is no match for the sailors’ physical power.
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Gulliver begins to walk inland and runs into “ugly” “animals” with thick hair on their heads, breasts, anuses, and genitals, but bare skin elsewhere. They have no tails, can walk upright, and climb trees. One approaches Gulliver and raises its “fore-paw.” When Gulliver bats it away with his sword, a whole “herd” of the animals comes running, but, afraid of Gulliver’s sword, simply climb up a tree and throw their feces at him.
Swift’s prose stays true to Gulliver’s perspective—not knowing the creatures’ identity or names, he refers to them only as “animals.” He likewise uses other vocabulary associated with animals—such as “paw” and “herd”—to describe them.
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Suddenly, all the animals run away and Gulliver sees they have been scared away by a horse. When he tries to pet the horse, the horse seems repulsed by Gulliver’s hand and won’t allow it to touch him. Another horse approaches. Gulliver observes that they are “formal” with each other and seem to converse reasonably in a mysterious language. They approach Gulliver and delicately examine and admire each item of his clothing. Gulliver concludes that the horses must be magicians who have turned themselves into horses. Listening to them speak, he hears them using the word 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.
Swift’s prose continues to stay true to Gulliver’s perspective. He describes the scene based on his current knowledge (though his subsequent discoveries will soon reveal how mistaken these initial impressions are). Even from a position of ignorance, Gulliver’s perspective registers that these are no ordinary horses—their humanoid qualities leads him to assume they must be humans in an elaborate disguise.
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