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Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels


by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver's Travels Politics Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #7

He said, "he had been very seriously considering my whole story, as far as it related both to myself and my country; that he looked upon us as a sort of animals, to whose share, by what accident he could not conjecture, some small pittance of reason had fallen, whereof we made no other use, than by its assistance, to aggravate our natural corruptions, and to acquire new ones, which nature had not given us; that we disarmed ourselves of the few abilities she had bestowed; had been very successful in multiplying our original wants, and seemed to spend our whole lives in vain endeavours to supply them by our own inventions; that, as to myself, it was manifest I had neither the strength nor agility of a common Yahoo. (4.7.4)

The Master Horse thinks that the "reason" that Gulliver says European Yahoos have is really just a new kind of vice, allowing Yahoos to cheat, lie, and steal on a grander scale. And in order to practice this fake rationality, European Yahoos have given up the few natural gifts (long nails, hair to protect us from the sun) that humans have. So, what's the point of human politics and society? Does Gulliver give any kind of credit to human civilization? Do you think the book wants us to agree with Gulliver's assessment?

Quote #8

For if," said he, "you throw among five Yahoos as much food as would be sufficient for fifty, they will, instead of eating peaceably, fall together by the ears, each single one impatient to have all to itself. [...]

My master further assured me, which I also observed myself, "that in the fields where the shining stones abound, the fiercest and most frequent battles are fought, occasioned by perpetual inroads of the neighbouring Yahoos." (4.7.6, 4.7.8)

Humans are greedy. Yes, we get it, already. But Gulliver's skewing both his and the Master Horse's examples against us by never pointing out that there have been examples of humans who have given freely of themselves. Like, what about Mother Theresa? How would you argue against Gulliver's assessment of humankind?

Quote #9

I durst make no return to this malicious insinuation, which debased human understanding below the sagacity of a common hound, who has judgment enough to distinguish and follow the cry of the ablest dog in the pack, without being ever mistaken. (4.7.14)

The "malicious insinuation" to which Gulliver refers is the Master Horse's observation that all Yahoo groups choose the weakest, ugliest one of them to lead. Gulliver makes one of his few protests against Houyhnhnm logic, saying that it can't be true that humans are less wise than dogs, who always choose the strongest dog of the pack to lead. What kinds of models of leadership do we get in this book? Doesn't it seem kind of odd that a Tory like Swift, who supports the power of kings (as long as they're not George I) seems to satirize leadership all over the place in this novel? In fact, Swift began as a Whig and later became Tory, so many of his ideas remain pretty liberal. Classic Tory beliefs like divine right of the monarchy don't seem to have been so important to him, which may explain part of his frustration with the extremes of partisanship under George I.

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