We travel the world to expand our horizons and look beyond the both the physical and metaphorical borders of our own cultures. When we travel we gain new perspectives on other cultures and their ultimate impact on our very own understanding of the world. One prime example of a new perspective comes from Lemul Gulliver himself in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. As a work of satire, Swift uses the protagonist, Gulliver, to criticize British society in the 18th century and realities of humanity. We can see the work of satire through that Gulliver’s own ego is criticized. Yet, through the journeys that Gulliver embarks in the land of Lilliput, Brobdingnag, and Houyhnhm, that the nature of his perspective on the pathway to the `right” way to live. Through this exposure, Gulliver’s perspectives on gender and reason develop through his final voyage and understanding about truth. Swift uses this lens about Gulliver’s narrow mindedness centered around gender to extend the satirization about the truth and reason.
Going from an educated man of English society to man unable to withstand the realities of humanity describing them with hatred, Lemuel Gulliver’s initial character greatly contrasts the final character in the final chapters read. After spending about a year living with the Houyhnhnms, they confront Gulliver with one of the most striking realizations between humanity and his version of the idealistic society. Stating the moment as, “The beast and I were brought close together, and by our countenances diligently compared both by master and servant, who thereupon repeated several times the word Yahoo. My horror and astonishment are not to be described, when I observed in this abominable animal, a perfect human figure: the face of it indeed was flat and broad, the nose depressed, the lips large and the mouth wide, but these differences are common to all savage nations.” Two things are going on in this passage: Gulliver approaches face to face with the reality that Yahoos represent a representation of humanity. The other is the question of how he must confront the loathsome idea of being intertwined with Yahoo culture. Gulliver transcends into a strong rejection of humanity, which represents the complete opposite of how he began in the journey to Lilliput, where he idealized the grandeur of a humanitarian utopia. While Gulliver will go on to adapt Houyhnhnm values, this passage serves more as a satirical analysis of reason. Although this creation of the Houyhnhnm utopia might seem idealistic in the eyes of Gulliver, their reason is inherently flawed and corrupt. The Houyhnhnms mistreat and abuse the Yahoos not differently than humanity mistreats other species, but by being blinded by Houyhnhm’s “reason” does not see the hypocrisy within this and instead uses reason as a method judgment.
Gulliver goes even further when he progresses to use gender to interpret his role within humanity, “My master told me, ‘there were some qualities remarkable in the Yahoos, who he had not observed me mention, or at least very slightly, in the accounts, I had given of humankind.’ He said, ‘those animals, like other brutes, had their females in common; but in this, they differed, that she Yahoo would admit the males while she was pregnant; and that he would quarrel and fight with the females, as fiercely as with each other; both which practices were such degrees of infamous brutality, as no other sensitive creature ever arrived at.”
In this passage, Gulliver continues the extension for his repulsion of humanity but now is specifically targeting one gender: woman. The Master Horse is grossed out because human women keep on having sexual intercourse while pregnant, thinking of the act as prosperous and possibly ‘inhuman.’ He is additionally grossed out at the idea that women and continues to compare women to animals by stating,’ like other brutes, had their females in common.’ In other words, that human women can sleep with multiple men, much as animals do. The women, in this case, are objectified, thus being reduced to their physical appearance and sexuality. However, this is contradictory to what Swift presents in his narrative of the utopia of the Houyhnhnms. The land practices equal access to education for both men and women. While the Houyhyms do teach their daughters to become better mothers, compared to the Lilliputian women taught to be better companions, there is still an underlying issue about the quality of access to education. Overall, Gulliver seems to imply that women are less capable than men by reducing them to their physical and sexual appearances to inherently become the “other”.
The theme of this concept of the “other” can be seen when Gulliver, “When I happened to behold the reflection of my own form in a lake or fountain, I turned away my face in horror and detestation of myself, and could better endure the sight of a common Yahoo than of my own person.Neither shall I disown, that in speaking I am apt to fall into the voice and manner of the Houyhnhnms, and hear myself ridiculed on that account, without the least mortification.” Gulliver inherently leaves his closested world to explore the power relations in the book. The power relations throughout Gulliver’s Travels discusses the imbalance between men and women, however when it becomes a power relation between humanity and the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver suddenly becomes the ‘other’. Coined by Simone de Beaviour when expressing the fundamental oppression of women by men on every level to become the “Other”, Gulliver essentially inherited the place of women in his relation to the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhms condescend Gulliver’s connections to humanity by also oppressing every action committed by them. Gulliver goes from hero to oppressed to realize the reason of truth relies on Gulliver rejecting all aspects of his humanity. He cannot seem to reason his way out of as he wants to have access to the concept of pure reason that the Houyhnhms possess. His reflection on the other hand showcases him, a different reality that the Houyhnhnms and him will never reach the same level as long as he is the other.
Laura Brown’s essay, however, does provide a third lense through which Swift satirize’s Gulliver’s view on women to dramatize the corruption of reason. Laura Brown describes such use as, “To say that Gulliver occupies the place of the woman at recurrent moments in the Travels is not to say that Gulliver is the same as a woman, but to suggest a systematic pattern of implication, which moves from the various forms of in- terchangeability that we have seen in Gulliver’s connection with the fashion doll and the Yahoos to a full incorporation like that offered by Gulliver’s relation to the cancerous breast and the maids of honour […]”. This quote in itself helps reinvent the argument made by Swift and Brown about the strong existing relation between gender and power. While at first look the female character in Travels might appear needless to say, unimportant, they tie Gulliver to a strong moment between the unachievable reason he seeks to avoid acting in the errors of humanity and assimilate into the “perfect” Houyhnhm utopia.
Regardless of Gulliver’s lack of sympathy for women and essentially himself in the quest to find a reason, Gulliver does find importance within Rochefoucauld’s maxim, “Self-love is the most cunning than the most cunning man in the world.”Although Gulliver, initially starts as a man of wisdom and knowledge sharing his experiences with the Lilliputians and Brobdingnags, he realizes the worrisome traits about humanity. As he deepens his journey, he comes to terms with the great disaster that humanity has caused. His realization about humanity and the Yahoos allow for Gulliver to realize he can save himself from humanity. The love for himself allows Gulliver’s permission to strip himself from his humane nature and adapt the Houyhnhnm quality of life. This same self-love that helps Gulliver find the truth behind “reason”, that he is one of the outliers amongst humanity who was able to witness all the atrocities and remove himself from such.
Overall, the transformation of Gulliver changes as he comes to numerous stages of truth within his journeys. He offers a new set of solutions to achieve the truth about his truth of reason. Whether this is a truth about humanity or a solution to escape humanity, it is without a doubt that Gulliver’s character has various moments throughout the book in which he uncovers himself trying to set a standard of reason. While Gulliver’s character encounters some obstacles along the way that allow him to reach this notion of reason, Whether we may argue with his understanding about reason to justify his actions, Gulliver showcases discover his character in a set of complex dialogues and plots.