The Cycle of Oppression

“Upon the whole, the behavior of these animals was so orderly and rational, so acute and judicious, that I at last concluded they must needs be magicians, who had thus metamorphosed themselves upon some design, and seeing a stranger in the way, resolved to divert themselves with him; or, perhaps, were really amazed at the sight of a man so very different in habit, feature, and complexion, from those who might probably live in so remote a climate. Upon the strength of this reasoning, I ventured to address them in the following manner: ‘Gentlemen, if you be conjurers, as I have good cause to believe, you can understand my language; therefore, I make bold to let your worships know that I am a poor distressed Englishman, driven by his misfortunes upon your coast; and I entreat one of you to let me ride upon his back, as if he were a real horse, to some house or village where I can be relieved. In return of which favor, I will make you a present of this knife and bracelet,’ taking them out of my pocket” (Swift 284-285).

Instead of focusing on Gulliver`s description of the Houyhnhnms lifestyle to accredit Swift`s suggestion that mankind would be happier if they lived like them, I disagree with the position seeing as the oppressed state of humans or “yahoos” living amongst the Houyhnhnms cannot possibly amount to an ideal utopia. Gulliver`s response to the Houyhnhms intelligence is what seems to be repeated the most in the passage that I chose. There isn’t really a repeated word or phrase in the passage, however, the concept of his disassociation with the yahoos is emphasized through his constant use of complimentary terms towards the Houyhnhms.  This repetition of the descriptive terms of the horse’s attentiveness and rational, implying superior intelligence, is also described as behavior as humanistic traits. Even though he has no rational evidence to support his notion that there are humans on the island at first, he still, assumes that humans must be responsible for these horses’ hyper intelligence. He even admits to the possibility of the existence of magic, yet he still cannot conceive of a land where humans are not superior beings. He constantly confirms this idea as he mentions every elegant part of these horses’ existence as it juxtaposes to the savagery of animals that he is used to seeing. The repetition continues as every word that describes the animal’s life style is still equated to that of a human, yet it becomes clearer that they are more advanced than humans because they have created this society where their dominance is praised. The reminder of their superiority is constantly looming over the yahoos, as they are slaughtered and oppressed. Perhaps it is this affirmation that a mutiny from these intellectually disadvantaged creatures is highly unlikely that appeal to Gulliver, especially since he had just been rejected by his own species.

However, Gulliver still doesn’t learn from is mistakes and carries his attitude of entitlement and stubborn ideals that annoyed his crew over to this new island where he expects to be worshiped for his status as an English man. It has been observed over time that history repeats itself and often it is the mistakes that we make that we do not learn from. Imperialism and the need to do anything, no matter who it hurts, to reign superior seems too often be the cause of these mistakes. Like many, Swift may have acknowledged this notion by showing how Gulliver abides by his perspective of Anglo-Saxon superiority where ever he goes without ever learning his lesson. Because of this attitude Gulliver`s expectation of the human’s involvement with civilization becomes contradicted to the point of irony. The humans are not only seen as savages but Gulliver immediately refuses to identify with them and rejects them. Thus, further validating the lack of comradery amongst the human race. I wouldn’t say that the phrase “I make bold to let your worships know that I am a poor distressed Englishman,” is out of place in this context because I expected him to display a sense of entitlement. It however is out of place in the story because the horses are just as worthy of his worship than him theirs.

The human race is treated as animals but who is to say that they didn’t have it coming to them. Perhaps their barbaric customs of imperialism and disloyalty prompted their enslavement. Swift maybe offering a commentary on how, if the inner savagery of humans were reflected onto their outward appearance, then they would look more like beast than animals who only exist within the boundaries that the more advanced race (humans) have created for them. Or possibly he is warning us that the future of English imperialist may be bleak if they were to continue to mistreat other races with no expectation of retaliation. The history of how this enslavement began is missing from the text, no matter his authorial intention, the fact of the matter lies that there is a cycle of oppression that occurs in a society built of spite and entitlement. As long as there is one race that considers themselves to be superior based on stature or even morals there will always be an oppressor that prevents the oppressed from advancing until they rebel and then it starts all over.

-Kamani Morrow

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