The Application of “A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms” to “The Black and Green Atlantic”

As we talked about in class, many students before have questioned how Johnathan Swift’s satirical novel “Gulliver’s Travels” relates to this course. Despite its fantasy setting and unrealistic characters, the final part of “Gulliver’s Travels,” “A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms,” proves to be the most applicable and relevant of them all.  

Upon arriving in the country of the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver quickly discovers that of the two species in the country—the Yahoos (who resemble humans) and the Houyhnhnms (who are horses)—the Houyhnhnms deem themselves to be superior and powerful species while the Yahoos are deemed inferior and forced to be subservient due to their natural lack of intellectual capabilities as well as their naturally-possessed physical ones. 

Due to Gulliver’s appearance alone, the mighty Houyhnhnms initially call and associate him with the Yahoos. Noticing the Yahoos’ subservient and inferior role in this society, Gullier begins to do everything in his power to not be associated as one of them so that during his entire stay in the country of the Houyhnhnms, he is not relegated to a lowly position of servitude as all of the other Yahoos are. 

The most fascinating and relevant part of this voyage is the disdain that Gulliver begins to experience for both the Yahoos and all humans after spending such an ample amount of time with the Houyhnhnms. This disdain remains so severe that even when Gulliver returns to England after many months, he despises his own wife and family and prefers the company of his horse, showing how the influence of the Houyhnhnms was so profound on Gulliver that he ended up internalizing their idea of Yahoo/human inferiority.

This idea of hating and dehumanizing a person to the point of inferiority solely based on their appearance is a concept very relevant to our course because it displays one of the most prominent dangers of colonialism. History has shown the dangers of this concept time and time again through the destruction of entire cultures solely because of other human beings believed to be superior to them solely because of their appearance. 

The dehumanization of people based on their appearance is a relevant theme to all of the readings that we have read in this class in regards to American history. Much like the Houyhnhnms did to the Yahoos, white people utilized appearance in order to dehumanize black people into a role of servitude. Upon his return to England, the ridiculousness of Gulliver’s hatred for his own kind is a reflection of the ridiculousness of hating another human being solely because of their appearance. Given all of our previous readings, it is very clear how relevant this commentary is to this class. 

One Reply to “The Application of “A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms” to “The Black and Green Atlantic””

  1. I really enjoyed your dissection of how Gulliver’s Travels relates to our class as a whole. Gulliver’s abhorrence of the Yahoos is an obvious and powerful allusion to the problem of colonialism. I think that this metaphor for colonialism is complicated when you consider how Gulliver was portrayed until this point. In his voyage to Lilliput, at least, Gulliver seems to be the model for positive cultural exchange—he carefully learns the Lilliputian language and doesn’t judge them, despite their size. He is presented as a very reasonable, considerate traveler early on. However, as you point out, his hatred of humanity is entirely unreasonable after he meets the Houyhnhnms, which begs the question: what changed? I think Swift paints Gulliver as a seemingly reasonable man at first to demonstrate how everyone in Britain at the time had a vested interest in colonialism. The ills of colonialism can transform a reasonable traveler into a judgemental recluse, like Gulliver was transformed.

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