In the last part of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Lemuel Gulliver returns home to England only to find himself surrounded by Yahoos—creatures that are vile and filthy, savage with unpleasant habits, creatures that ironically resemble human beings closely. Apparently, Gulliver’s perception of the people in England as Yahoos is a telling sign that he has already lost grip of his sanity, amplified in no small way by his almost sixteen years of travels to isolated regions in the world filled with strange creatures.
Moreover, Gulliver has a strong sense of attachment with the Houyhnhnms—a race of intelligent and rational horses he met in one of his distant voyages—so much so that, after returning home to England, he preferred to stay at home away from the people, the Yahoos, and to spend many hours each day in the stables talking to his horses. What is insanity in the first place? How can one person be determined as insane? What are the qualifications or symptoms before an individual can be said as insane? Richard Rogers, Orest. E. Wasyliw and James L.
Cavanaugh in their article “Evaluating Insanity: A Study of Construct Validity” argue that “insanity as a psychological concept is a fluid or open-textured construct (p. 295)”. That is, the concept of insanity is not bounded by a single universal framework although in more recent times the concept is further classified into different types which includes but is not limited to schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. From a broader and conventional perspective, a person who is insane is one who behaves differently from ‘normal’ individuals or the average and ordinary people (Fingarette, p.
235). Is Gulliver suffering from insanity in his revelation of his voyages and his consequent behavior after he returned home? Since insanity is a broad concept that encompasses numerous other psychological impairments, it is significant to pinpoint the specific psychological ailment that applies to Gulliver. According to Bruce Bower, psychosis is a mental disorder that exhibits the symptoms of hallucinations or delusions which indicate a broken connection with reality (p. 37).
It is that definition which most likely applies to the case of Gulliver as will be seen in the proceeding discussion. In most parts of the Gulliver’s Travels, the reader can already gain the impression that Gulliver is on the verge of being insane, that he is acting far from what ordinary people do. For example, Gulliver’s malleability, which is suggested first by his name—Gulliver as gullible—can be seen in the case where he tried to imitate the Houyhnhnms in the sense that he wanted to become a rational or a sensible creature like the rational horses.
He is strongly convinced that human beings are corrupted and, thus, he does not want to be a part of them or be like them. His perception is that the horses are far better than humans and the Yahoos, with humans and Yahoos only having slight differences for Gulliver. As A. D. Nuttall suggests, “the horses Gulliver admires so fervently are cold, passionless, and, at the last cruel” which is made more evident “by the end of the book, when Gulliver shrinks from the obviously virtuous Portuguese captain and prefers the society of his horses to that of his wife and children (p. 52).
” Nuttall then concludes that “no one, at the end of Gulliver’s last voyage, can doubt, it is said, that the hero is mad (p. 52). ” The fourth part of the book, “A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms” which covers Gulliver’s voyages from September 7, 1710 to December 5, 1715 is the part where the insanity of Gulliver is manifested in more obvious ways. It is the part where he met the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos, and it is also the part where Gulliver’s personality has begun to change and the part where he eventually transformed himself quite differently from the rest of the people.
His living in seclusion and devotion of his time talking to his horses in the stables suggest that he is not living the normal way of life, “normal” being that of a person who mingles with the rest of the society and building relationships with other people. Curt A. Zimansky also suggests that there is the criticism of “the dreadful inadequacy of the life of reason” such as its “singular lack of affection, either conjugal or filial (p. 47). ” Of course, the Houyhnhnms live the life of reason and, apparently, the life that is devoid of affection.
Yet even though such are the traits of the rational horses, Gulliver sought to be like the Houyhnhnms especially after his encounters with the Yahoos. And it is in the fourth part of the book that the reader gains insight into the hints of Gulliver’s insanity: Gulliver is a “returned traveler whose gait resembles that of a horse, whose speech suggests a whinny, who retreats to the stable and cannot stand the presence of his own family,” all of which present “something of a problem” (Zimansky, p. 48).
In Chapter XI of the fourth part, there was the instance where Gulliver had to flee from the natives of the land he sought to settle-in after he was banished from the land of the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver eventually spotted a ship from a distance and decided to hide in it. Apparently, the seamen of Don Pedro de Mendez found him hiding and questioned him, to which the men laughed at the horse-like responses of Gulliver. That part of the story indicates how deeply Gulliver has been influenced by the Houyhnhnms, to the point of imitating their manner of ‘communicating’.
It also indicates how Gulliver has grown insane especially before the eyes of the seamen who found him in their ship. Upon returning home, however, the insanity of Gulliver seemed to have not diminished. On the contrary, his insanity seemed to have grown worse, exemplified by his disgust for his children and wife as he is reminded of the Yahoos he encountered in his voyage. Gulliver also decided to buy two horses and put them in his stables, talking to the animals for almost four hours every day.
In the eyes of the average individual, wouldn’t all of those things indicate insanity? Here you have a traveler who just returned home and who was thought to have been long dead, a traveler who suddenly acted in a strange manner like that of horses, and in fact purchasing horses just to talk to them each day. His misanthropy towards people of his own kind or humanity in general and the people of England in particular suggests his insanity as well, such as the instance when he sees his own reflection in a lake or a fountain.
At that time, he detested himself and turned himself away from the reflection, knowing how Yahoos are very much like the rest of the people around him, including himself, and how he admired the qualities of Houyhnhnms. He was disgusted of the men and women surrounding him to the point that he wanted to become a part of the Houyhnhnms at least by imitating their habits and talking to his horses in his stables.
Other scholars have argued that Gulliver’s insanity is a form of satire, that in the deadly horror of his madness he plays such satire as “Swift’s spokesman, showing the acute vision of a Horatian or a Juvenalian satirist (Bentman, p. 535). ” And it is in that satire that the insanity is amplified and vice versa, implying madness by any standard: “when Gulliver is restrained from jumping overboard only by the threat of chains, when he cannot bear to let a tailor take his measure, when he falls in a Swoon for almost an hour at the touch of his wife, when he talks with horses, when he is fearful of every human’s teeth and claws (Bentman, p.
536). ” It is apparent that Gulliver’s reactions towards other people reflect his disgust and repulsion, which is perhaps Swift’s way of criticizing the society’s preference for the ideal of ‘reason’ seen from the reactions of Gulliver, and that departing from that ideal meant being labeled as insane from the eyes of the ‘normal’ society.
When taken from a literal perspective, reading the fourth part of the book reveals Gulliver’s encounters with bizarre creatures, specifically the Houyhnhnms—talking horses with intelligence and etiquette—and the Yahoos—primitive and materialistic creatures closely resembling humans who have a deep penchant for pretty stones dug from mud. A reading of the book also reveals the sea mishaps and misfortunate events to happen in Gulliver’s voyages, including the shipwrecks, the attacks from strangers and the cases of being abandoned.
All these experiences for sixteen years put together might have altered the mental health of Gulliver, gravely affecting his rationality to one that is far different from what the ordinary human being has. But of course, it is not enough to simply confine a reading of Gulliver’s Travels from a literal perspective especially because the book itself has long been held as a satire and as a criticism against humanity’s high regard for reason.
It is interesting to note that the book ends with a depiction of Gulliver losing his wits in his clamor for the qualities of Houyhnhnms. Moreover, it is also interesting to note how Gulliver preferred the horses over his children and wife, which depicts, among others, how madness has taken hold of him. There is hardly any doubt as to whether Gulliver has indeed grown insane; the only question at the end of the day is if he will ever be able to return to who he was before he left his home for his travels.
Towards the closing parts of the book, Gulliver seems to be more and more detached from reality, heightened largely by his delusion that horses can talk and that he can communicate with them since his horses might just as well be members of the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver is generally insane and specifically suffering from psychosis.
Bentman, Raymond. “Satiric Structure and Tone in the Conclusion of Gulliver’s Travels. ” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 11. 3 (1981): 535-536. Bower, Bruce. “Much Psychosis in Elderly May Go Unnoticed.
” Science News 161. 3 (2002): 37. Fingarette, Herbert. “The Concept of Mental Disease in Criminal Law Insanity Tests. ” The University of Chicago Law Review 33. 2 (1986): 235. Nuttall, A. D. “Gulliver among the Horses. ” The Yearbook of English Studies 18 (1988): 52. Rogers, Richard, Orest E. Wasyliw, and James L. Cavanaugh. “Evaluating Insanity: A Study of Construct Validity. ” Law and Human Behavior 8. 3 (1984): 295. Zimansky, Curt A. “Gulliver, Yahoos, and Critics. ” College English 27. 1 (1965): 47-48.