Gullivers Travels.Discuss the style and concerns of this extract, considering its significance within the text as a whole.

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Discuss the style and concerns of this extract, considering its significance within the text as a whole.

In this extract of Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver has just been attacked by a herd of Yahoos throwing excrement at him, and his rescuers, the Houyhnhnms, observe him.  Swift juxtaposes Gulliver’s human vanity with the calm, rational nature of the Houyhnhnms to satirise the human assumption of being the most morally and rationally superior species.  This is significant preparation for Gulliver’s moral realisation towards the end of the book.  This portrayal of Gulliver is perhaps a response against the Renaissance period views where mankind was celebrated as the ultimate being, and instead the neo-classical genre influence, where mankind was viewed as imperfect and inherently sinful but can redeem himself by a constant struggle towards humility, is strongly ingrained in the text.

Gulliver’s belief that humankind is the most superior species, which has been developed throughout his journeys, carries on to Houyhnhnmland, as suggested by Swift’s choice of images and words.  One aspect of the extract that reveals Gulliver’s vanity as a human is his clothing.  He makes several references in the first paragraph to his clothing: his ‘hat’ is ‘discomposed’ by the horses, and the fact that he was ‘forced’ to adjust it better shows that vanity, in the form of concealing imperfections through clothing, is an innate part of humans.  The Houyhnhnms’ unfamiliarity with clothing such as his ‘coat’, an unnatural covering for the body, thus highlights their belief in living in harmony with nature, and this neo-classical type of conservatism is presented as a much better way of life as it escapes vanity.  Another aspect showing Gulliver’s pride in being human is his self-proclaimed ‘strength of … reasoning’, which in fact becomes tiresome to the reader, as Gulliver tends to flaunt his intelligence purposelessly.  For example, in the first paragraph he inserts a trivial fact ‘(who was a brown Bay)’ in his account to show his knowledge of animals; but this serves no real purpose, especially since the horses are such a united species that distinguishing between different types is futile, and could perhaps instead suggest the pettiness of humans, a theme developed since Lilliput, where petty jealousy and politics lead to absurd wars.  His speculation of the horses being conjurers is created from his imagination and only founded by his observation that they are ‘orderly and rational, so acute and judicious’.  As soon as Gulliver comments on these positive qualities, they are immediately attributed to humans, showing his belief in human superiority.  Because of this, he speaks to the horses in a formal register, respectfully referring to them as ‘Gentlemen’.  While this would have been commendable, the irony is that Gulliver only displays this respect because he believes the Houyhnhnms to be fellow human beings.  The phrase ‘as if he were a real horse’ connotes that if he had known from the beginning that the Houyhnhnms were merely animals, he would not have asked to ride on them as a favour because it would be a natural to just ride them; only because he thinks that they are humans does he ask to be excused.  Therefore, at this point Gulliver is still a being with no sense of humility.

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Meanwhile, because of their humility and simple lifestyles the Houyhnhnms do not understand any form of grandeur and unnaturalness that Gulliver possesses; instead of being critical of their ignorance, Swift presents it in a positive light because it complies with neo-classical virtues, something humans should constantly strive for.  In all his previous journeys, when Gulliver meets a people he is critical of them: the Lilliputians for being so powerless as to have to tie him up, the Brobdingnagians for being life threatening and the Laputians for neglecting him.  However, the Houyhnhnms seem to strike a perfect balance, calmly investigating ...

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