Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dear Yahoos

the Yahoos, 
Country of the Houyhnhnms, 
C/o Jonathan Swift, 
Gulliver’s Travels

Dear Yahoos,

I didn’t meet you until I read the unabridged edition of Gulliver’s Tavels. Prior to that, I had only heard of the Lilliputians and the Brobdingnagians.

When Gulliver first met you, he hardly acknowledged your humanity. He preferred to describe you as
“deformed…Their heads and breasts were covered with thick hair . . . but the rest of their bodies were bare . . . . They had no tails and often stood on their hind feet . . . . I never beheld in all my travels so disagreeable an animal." 

Your personal habits and behaviour did much to confirm his beliefs. You were filthy and you stank, you gorged on garbage and raw meat and everything whose consumption would be prohibited by the food codes of any civilized community. What’s worse, Gulliver emphasised that you were “the most filthy, noisome, and deformed animals which nature ever produced,” besides being
“mischievous and malicious.” In essence, you represent mankind at its most vicious and depraved.

To drive the point home, Swift raised some very pertinent points. He let us know that you guys love to collect “pretty stones” that you find in the mud, that you are ever willing to fight for the most inconsequential of reasons, that you like to sneak up on fellow Yahoos in order to attack them or steal from them.


Sounds familiar!

I can see the similarity, even though Gulliver won’t. But that is because Gulliver doesn’t want to see in you the mirror image of what we are. He would rather identify himself with the peaceful, rational Houhynhnms because the truth, that he is more like you, is extremely unpalatable. It is better to deny such unpleasant truths.

Ironically, you were debased and animal-like, even though you appeared human as far as body shape, size and type, and facial features were concerned. The Houhynhnms are completely horselike in form and shape.

But because Swift was writing a satire, and not a fantasy tale, we know that Gulliver and, by extension, we have more in common with your tribe than with the Houhynhnms.

But there is another side of you that Gulliver simply won’t consider, even though he should. After all, it was he who said,
“Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.” 

It is the fact that you are alive, that you have strong emotions and sexual appetites, that you enjoy having fun and frolicking about, and that showing good manners doesn’t rank too high on your list of priorities.

The Houyhnhnms, by contrast, don’t express their emotions; they don’t even cry when someone dies. They take their detachment to such an extreme that it appears like coldness, a lack of empathy and humanity, even though on the face of it, they are not savage, like you.

Gulliver makes his choice of favourite people, and it is not you.

Who would I have chosen, had I been in his shoes?


  1. I've never read Gulliver's Travels and really have no knowledge of the characters. Not sure how it never ended up on my radar.

  2. I don't remember reading about the yahoos but then I've only read the abridged version.

  3. They don't sound familiar to me. It seems I've also read the abridged version.

  4. I guess if you were him you could write them differently - as deformed, but beautiful! ~Liz (website, Blogger will take you somewhere else!)



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