Jonathan Swift’s satire, entitled Gulliver’s Travels, deals with all general flaws of humanity, including but not limited to weakness, stupidity and greed. He utilizes everyday topics such as politics, science and human relations, and criticizes them under the guise of telling a story about a man’s odyssey into the unknown lands. Swift’s final part of his misanthropic tale lands his protagonist, Lemuel Gulliver, in the land of the Houyhnhnms, which will eventually turn out to be a utopia for him. However, as it is usually the case in life, all is not as it seems, and even though Houyhnhnms do have a functional society based on innate rules and regulations, they are neglecting an important part of existence, which is to feel and live one’s life not merely for the purposes of procreation and caring for the young, which in turn, makes their society a highly flawed one.
As Gulliver, the unlikely Odysseys figure, finds himself yet again in an unknown country, the initial image he sees is that of Yahoos, his deformed, degenerated human counterparts, from which he is rescued by a kind and gentle horse, who appears to be genuinely fascinated by Gulliver. After some time, the truly astounded Gulliver realizes that he has found himself in a land where he is not of a distorted size or culture, but rather he is of an entirely different race. His hosts are not the animalistic, savage Yahoos, to whom he as a specimen belongs, but the mild-natured Houyhnhnms, and what he learns about the Houyhnhnm society changes his entire perspective on the human race.
Interestingly enough, the very reason why Gulliver is so enthralled by the Houyhnhnm society is their lack of everything that being a human encompasses. While his other voyages seemed to have focused on mostly the worst characteristics of humankind, the Houyhnhnms are devoid of numerous human characteristics. For instance, the Houyhnhnms have no word in their language which explains the notion of lying. As Master Horse states: ”the use of speech was to make us understand one another, and to receive information of facts; now if any one said the thing which was not, these ends were defeated,” which in turn, leaves them “worse than in ignorance” (Swift 179). This statement serves as a good idea of why the Houyhnhnms cannot comprehend the idea of lying, because speech was introduced for the purposes of communication, and thus, if someone does not state what he truly thinks, then the entire purpose of talking is lost. Speaking, while simultaneously concealing one’s true thoughts, appears an inconceivable idea to the Master Horse.
In addition, the Houyhnhnms have no need for laws and lawyers, due to the fact that they are governed by pure reason, and the Master Horse is horrified at this perversion of law: “there was a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in the art of proving, by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid. To this society all the rest of the people are slaves” (Swift 194). Members of this society are of course, the lawyers, whose profession is to delegate the truth according to who pays for it. The Houyhnhnms cannot understand this notion as they do not have prescribed laws and regulations, but rather have proper conduct ingrained in their breeding. As such, their sense of right and wrong is not directed by an outward organ of authority, but rather from inside their own minds.
Since arguments and disagreements do not exist in any form, this leads to the conclusion that the entire race is on friendly terms with one another. They have firmly set roles in society, and everyone is born with a predefined social role. As Gulliver states, there is a “race of inferior Houyhnhnms” who are there, who are bred even, since they are allowed to have more children than couples generally have, to serve the higher class Houyhnhnms (Swift 203). The child issue however, applied to most Houyhnhnms is as follows: every couple is limited to two children of the opposite sex, and if one couple has the misfortune of having two foals of the same gender, a logical solution is available: they simple swap with a couple who has the same problem. This way, their arranged marriages and carefully selected breeding system allows for a proper male to female ratio in the society. In addition, they treat every single child as their own, urging for equal opportunity for every child. All of the abovementioned reasons bring the Houyhnhnm society very close to the utopian ideal.
However, in this need to make everyone equal, the Houyhnhnms have become almost interchangeable, without proper names and thus, without personal identities. Their society is a complete merger of all elements within it, up to such an extent that there really are no trees visible from the forest. Their entire life is subordinated to a highly orderly routine, where everyone has a common purpose and no one is allowed to wander away from the path that has been already pre-established for them, even before their very birth.
Consequently, the Houyhnhnm society may appear to have all the characteristics of a utopia, with no legal issues, with everyone being satisfied with their position in life and not really striving for more, which simultaneously makes them devoid of satisfactions and dissatisfactions in life. However, this also suggests the less appealing idea of leading a robotic kind of life, where there exists the total exclusion of all that is related to the aesthetic, the emotional and the philosophical. In other words, while other lands Gulliver visits appear to be consumed in the ugliness of the human existence, the Houyhnhnms appear to be anything but, and in this sense, it is exactly their lack of humanity that makes their society a highly flawed one.
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. Revised. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003. Print.