Swift’s satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels satirizes English politics and politicians, the judicial system and religious disputes, no doubt but it is also a satire as mankind in general. A satirical work possesses some comic elements by exposing the follies, absurdities, and faults of human beings in a humorous and witty manner. Though there are some comic elements in Gulliver’s Travels, its serious and somber mood has essentially a tragic undertone of all the parts, part IV is wholly tragic as far as Swift’s treatment is concerned.
An analysis of part IV of Gulliver’s Travels reveals that it is essentially tragic, containing not comic satire, but corrosive satire in general. The book is, indeed, a sustained satire assault, aiming at vexing the world. In the climatic fourth voyage, Swift’s dissection of human tissue is complete. There is nothing left, no possibility of any further exposure. In this book, he deals not with incidental problems of human life, but with the very core of his belief, the dichotomy of beast and reason in man. Man occupies the most deplorable situation in the chain of being for he shares the intelligence of superior creatures to a limited degree; he shares the sensuality of animals. This tragic duality of man is presented in the last book with great pathos. The country of the Yahoos and Houyhnhnms is described in this voyage in great detail. In this country, human beings are no better than a beast, and the horses are superior to human beings. The horses or the Houyhnhnms are the noblest conceivable animals. They are governed by reason, having a language of their own and they are capable of teaching their language to a human being like Gulliver. They have their own customs and methods of government while they are guided by the principles of benevolence and kindness. They are free from all kinds of evils and there is no word in their language for lying or falsehood. They settle their own problems by holding a periodical assembly to discuss the matters. They believe in population control and never marry for the sake of love or pleasure of sex. Their marriage leads to reproduction but they control the childbirth very effectively. The Yahoos symbolizing human beings are despicable creatures arousing our disgust and abhorrence.
The portrayal of the Yahoos intensifies the satire on the human race. They closely resemble a human being and are meant to represent them with the emphasis on the evil nature of human beings. Gulliver describes the Yahoos as filthy and as the most untouchable of all brutes. However, the portrayal of the Houyhnhnms reveals the fact that despite their remarkable qualities, they are lacking in some essential human qualities. This portrayal makes us more keenly aware of the weaknesses, follies, and evils of our own species. We are compelled to admit the essential tragedy of Swift’s portrayal of mankind. Swift in this book most successfully antagonizes humanity and directs our attention to the corrupt human nature. The book is far from being the outburst of a misanthrope in the most genuine attack on the pride of man. The satire reaches its climax when Gulliver is compelled to declare that many of his corrupt nature is inferior to Yahoos. The development of satire in this book lies in Gulliver’s shocking awareness that Yahoos are his own species. This tragic realization constitutes the nucleus of this great book. When Gulliver humbly kisses, the foot of a horse, the tragic undertone reaches its climax. This degradation of man to the level of Yahoos is one of the most painful realizations in this book, adding to the sense of tragedy. Gulliver final outlook on life as expressed in the concluding chapters further deepens the sense of tragedy. Gulliver returns home most reluctantly and his reunion with his family has a saddening effect on him. Having lived among the noble Houyhnhnms, he finds it quite impossible to adjust himself to fellow human beings. The very odor of human beings makes him disgusted.
Gulliver’s Travels in general, and the fourth book, in particular, is a tragic work, no doubt, but it is not tragic in any commendable sense. It does not elevate or uplift as which a great tragedy is expected to do. It also fails to arouse catharsis in us though we pity mankind. Instead of glorifying mankind, it offers a depressing picture of a man.