Gulliver's Travels


Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels: Book 4, Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Gulliver describes his happy contentment living with the master horse. A room has been built for him away from the house and he makes a mattress stuffed with feathers and Yahoos’ hair. He makes new clothes out of rabbit skin and makes shoe soles from dried Yahoo skin. He enjoys perfect physical and mental health and is never tempted to do any evil, freed from the corruptive context of humanity.
Gulliver’s contentment reflects his new perspective on Houyhnhmn superiority, as does his disturbing comfort with treating human beings’ bodies like dispensable animal pelts to make clothes from. He has ceased to see the Yahoos as human beings, as sentient entities. He sees them as animals.
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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 more he admired them and the more he cultivated the views about humans that Houyhnhmns held about Yahoos. When he sees his own reflection in water, he is disgusted and he aspires as much as possible to imitate the physical characteristics of a horse.
Although there are clearly virtuous advantages to Houyhnhmn over human society, Gulliver’s extreme pro-Houyhnhmn perspective seems problematic as it results in self-loathing and an inability to accept his own body.
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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 that Gulliver should be sent back whence he came. The master horse is reluctant to send Gulliver away but knows he must. Gulliver is so upset by this news that he faints. But, after recuperating, he and the master horse begin planning Gulliver’s departure. Gulliver builds a canoe out of Yahoo skins and prepares to set off.
Gulliver may imitate a horse and aspire to forget his own humanity in favor of becoming Houyhnhmn but, from the Houyhnhmns’ perspective, Gulliver is clearly a human being who will never truly fit in Houyhnhmn society.
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In parting, Gulliver kisses the hoof of the master horse. He acknowledges that “detractors are pleased to think it improbable that so illustrious a person should descend to give so great a mark of distinction to a creature so inferior.” But Gulliver explains that, “if these censurers” only knew “the noble and courteous disposition of the Houyhnhnms, they would soon change their opinion.”
Though it would be considered grotesque and self-debasing to kiss a horse’s hoof in human society, Gulliver insists that, from his perspective, kissing a Houyhnhmn hoof was an honor. Any reader who thinks otherwise, he warns, just doesn’t know the truth about Houyhnhmn superiority.
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