The Yahoos are the final topic for consideration. They represent more than just, as Bloom states it, the “trash heap” (658) of societies morals and values. Swift cleverly develops the Yahoos to show the cruelty of the Houyhnhnms. A surface translation of the Yahoos may be that they represent “Swifts criticism of modern man as a degenerate” (Ward 170), but a deeper interpretation shows that the Yahoos actually provide a vice upon which the Houyhnhnms feed. This helps develop Swift’s theme that a perfect civilization is non-existent and that the corruption of man, even in the Houyhnhnms, is inevitable.
Gulliver believes, partly do to his gullibility, that the Houyhnhnms represent all that is pure and wholly. How can this be true when the Yahoos, an inferior breed, are savagely tortured and used by both the Houyhnhnms and by Gulliver? Gulliver views the Yahoos as a breed of humans that predominately show the qualities that he perceives have led to the destruction of modern man. Interestingly though, he sees no problems in exploiting them in a grotesque and inhumane way. This is especially ironic after Gulliver comments that “there few greater lovers of mankind, at that time, than ” (Swift IV.
1073). To fully understand Gulliver’s love of mankind, one must consider his torturous use of the Yahoo’s. In order to have sails on his ship Gulliver uses the skins of the youngest Yahoos he can capture because the older Yahoos skins are “to tough and thick” (Swift IV. 1104). Also, his canoe is “covered with the skins of Yahoos, well stitched together” (Swift 1104). Swift is emphasizing that although Gulliver thinks he has seen humanity at its purest, he is still ignorant and selfish – using whatever and whoever he can to better himself.
Next, the ‘perfect’ Houyhnhnms treatment of the Yahoos must be considered to prove that Swift is attempting to show that humanity is corrupt and will always take advantage of those considered sub-human. The Yahoos are constantly tortured as they are forced to work the fields of oats. Yahoos perform not only the physical labour of the day but are also required to “draw home the sheaves in carriages” (Swift IV. 1099) much like horses are required to do in Gulliver’s homeland. The Houyhnhnms’ decide it would be advantageous to society to castrate the Yahoos.
They decide at a meeting that if “practiced among the younger Yahoos” this intervention would “not only render them tractable and fitter for use,” but would also “put an end to the whole species without destroying life” (Swift IV. 1098). This practice is not considered cruel by anyone in the Houyhnhnmian village, mainly because the Yahoos are considered so vile and hideous – often trampling down the Houyhnhnm’s oats and grass. This treatment of the Yahoos leaves one to consider that the Houyhnhnm race is not entirely decent and kind.
In actuality they represent the absurdity of man living in perfect peace and harmony. Man, according to Swift, is irrevocably destine to pursue a better life, even if that means trampling the lives of those ‘beneath’ him. Swift’s surface interpretation that Swift presents the Yahoos to show total irrationality and intellectual nullity while presenting the idea that the Houyhnhnms are “entirely rational and intelligent in all their behavior, their beliefs and their emotions” (Ward 170) must be disregarded.
Swift presents the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos together to present the obvious and subtle in an ironic fashion. As one, the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos satirically represent the undeniable truth that humanity is destine to run itself according to personal gain and reward – regardless of the cost to others.
Works Cited Bloom, Adam. Greenberg, Robert & Bowman, William, ed. “An Interpretive Outline of Gulliver’s travels” in The Writings Of Jonathan Swift (A Norton Critical Edition). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1973. Swift, Jonathan.
Abrams, M. H. and Greenbalt Stephen. ed. Gulliver’s Travels in The Norton Anthology Of English Literature. 7th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. Ward, David. Jonathan Swift: An Introductory Essay. London: Harper & Row Publishers, 1973. Works Consulted Eddy, William Alfred. Gulliver’s Travels; A Critical Study. Gloucester: Princeton University Press, 1963. Probyn, T. Clive. ed. The Art Of Jonathan Swift. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1978. Watkins, A. Susan. et al. Feminism For Beginners. Cambridge: Icon Books, 1992.