Authors often resort to the theme of animals in their prose and poetic works. The use of allegory allows them to attach a completely different meaning to a seemingly innocent character. Using animal characters allows us to compare and contrast them with human characters. Furthermore, the author can criticize the people via empowering their animal characters with some of the unpleasant human features. However, the author may also glorify some of the positive human characteristics by empowering the animals with them. By entitling animals with people’s characteristics and possibilities, the author may discuss the political and social context of the environment by subtle criticism and allegory. The representatives of the early modern literature period frequently employed animal characters in their works. Whether it was for criticism of appraisal or for showing similarities and divergences between the animal characters and human beings, the writers resorted to including various animal species in their novels and fables, and short stories. In Miguel de Cervantes’ “The Dogs’ Colloquy” (1672), the main characters are two dogs Berganza and Scipio. In Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels: Part IV. A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms” (1892), there is a description of the Master Horse whom Gulliver meets upon the arrival to Houyhnhnm Land. In both of the stories, the animal species chosen by the authors are different. However, they had a common aim by employing these characters in their works. The current paper is a comparative analysis of animal species in Miguel de Cervantes’ “The Dogs’ Colloquy” (1972) and Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels: Part IV. A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms” (1892) as the implication of criticism and satirizing of human nature.
Positive Features of the Animal Species in the Two Stories
The analyzed animal species are dogs (in Cervantes’ story) and horses (in Swift’s book). People have always related these animals to some positive features. Dogs are usually associated with fidelity, loyalty, honesty, and protection. Horses symbolize freedom, intelligence, agility, and nobility. Therefore, the authors chose these animals for their stories because using animals with positive features make it easier to illustrate the adverse peculiarities of human nature via anthropomorphism.
Swift (1892) describes the Master Horse as a noble creature belonging to the group of Houyhnhnms – well-behaved, intelligent horses as opposed to evil, wild, and repulsive human-like creatures Yahoos. At first, it seems like the core purpose of the Master Horse’s character in the book chapter is to sharpen and emphasize Gulliver’s observations of the similarities and differences between the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos.
While their first meeting cannot be called a very pleasant one, Gulliver and the Master Horse eventually grow to be good friends. Swift describes the Houyhnhnms as nearly perfect creatures: the animals’ conduct is “so orderly and rational, so acute and judicious” that Gulliver decides they are “magicians” who have transformed themselves “upon some design” (Swift, 1892, n. d.). They eat “with much decency and regularity,” the behavior of younger horses is “very modest,” and the master and mistress are “extremely cheerful and complaisant to their guest” (Swift, 1892, n. p). While chronicling the Houyhnhnms’ life, Gulliver mentions that their habits are simple and governed by reason. They have clear laws, and all of them differentiate good from the bad. No such rotten habits as selfishness, craving, or desire to deal with any politics are known to the horses. Their homes are clean, and their thoughts are void of anger and envy. Their society is so idyllic that Gulliver “should never have heard a lie from the meanest servant” (Swift, 1982, n. p.).
Berganza and Scipio, the main characters of Cervantes’ “The Dogs’ Colloquy” (1972), suggest a perfect impersonation of a satirical description of humans and their character traits. The dogs describe themselves as “symbols of friendship” and examples of “affection and fidelity” (Cervantes, 1972, n. p.). Berganza depicts many occasions from his life in which people demonstrate their unfair treatment f other human beings and animals. For instance, he describes how people are apt to treat other people as animals, like a notary and his friend, the police officer exploiting women “as a net or hook to make their catches for them” (Cervantes, 1972, n. p.). In other cases, people are described as animals themselves. For example, Berganza narrates about the Moorish Christians (Moriscos) whom he compares to “treasure-chest, moth, magpie and weasel” when it comes to money (Cervantes, 1972, n. p.). Even the type of narration bears an animalistic nature as Scipio asks Berganza to talk “quickly, without adding tails” to the story “and making it look like an octopus” (Cervantes, 1972, n. p.). Thus, Cervantes’ story, as well as Swift’s narration, has a great share of satirizing the human race and its features.
Adverse Aspects of Cervantes’ and Swift’s Animal Characters
Despite all the positive things told about the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver’s manner of describing them leaves the audience somehow hesitating about the veracity of his resolutions. The only indication of evil in the Houyhnhnms’ society, both verbal and personified, is “Yahoo.” And here we come to the point when the Houyhnhnms’ are not as idyllic as it appears at first sight. For instance, when Gulliver mentions to the Master Horse that in other parts of the world horses obey people, the latter becomes frustrated and blames Gulliver of being untruthful (notwithstanding the fact that he does not know the word “lie”). This refusal to admit something contrary to his own beliefs characterizes the Master Horse as an obstinate and selfish creature. A character with such exaggerated self-opinion cannot be regarded so much virtuous as it seems at first. Thus, after a thorough analysis, we can notice that Gulliver’s warm feelings towards the Houyhnhnms are a little sarcastic. This fact is emphasized by the mentioning of Gulliver spending several hours a day back at home, talking to his horses (Swift, 1982). Another issue concerned with criticizing the Houyhnhnms is that their society is too much reasonable that it lacks such crucial things as love or aspiration. Therefore, the Houyhnhnms seem a satire of a search for reason and happiness. While the Yahoos seem much worse characters, the Houyhnhnms are not so perfect themselves.
Cervantes’ dogs, despite criticism and condemnation of humans, are not as perfect as they depict themselves. They are too selfish and consider themselves too ideal. The way in which they share the sequence of their stories is an unfair one. Berganza is to speak first, and Scipio is supposed to talk the next night if the same opportunity to be endowed with human voices occurs once again. There even is a point when Scipio interrupts his friend and warns him about making his speeches too long: “Be wary with your tongue, for from that member flow the greatest ills of human life” (Cervantes 1972, n. p.). As we can see, the dogs are not as pure, innocent, and noble as they tend to describe themselves. Still, since the dogs in the story represent people, these negative traits should be viewed as belonging to humans and not to the dogs. Thus, the story is a double irony of the people: once through the dog’s words, and the second time, through the personification of their characters.
Comparative Characteristics of Swift’s Horses and Cervantes’ Dogs
The characters of both stories are represented as positive at first. The horses are indicated as good creatures by the story’s protagonist Gulliver (Swift, 1982), whereas the dogs praise themselves (Cervantes, 1972). The best features of the two groups of species, as pointed out in the stories, are being loyal, wise, and intelligent. However, both groups of animal species represent a satire of humans in some aspects of the stories. Swift (1892) explains his ironic approach by pointing out that the Houyhnhnms are not entirely beneficial characters and cannot be called perfect since they lack some vital features such as the need for love and search for happiness. Cervantes (1972) entitles his characters with the right to say by themselves what they disapprove of the humans. In both cases, some aspects of human nature are being satirized, although each author uses different methods for his implications of irony.
A significant similarity between the dogs in Cervantes’ story and the horses in Swift’s book is that they possess the gift of speech. This ability differs from the similar capacity of animals in fables or tales. In the compared pieces of literature, the characters are entitled to the right to talk along with being considered higher beings, intelligent and capable of making decisions and drawing conclusions. As Scipio in “The Dogs’ Colloquy” mentions, the fact of their “coming by the gift of speech” belongs to the “list of things which are called portents” (Cervantes, 1972, n. p.). In Swift’s (1892) novel, the horses also speak not for the mere reason of uttering words but for expressing some reasonable opinions.
Therefore, both books depict animals as opposed to people in some common and divergent ways. The animal species in Swift’s and Cervantes’ stories are empowered with many human features, which makes them able and apt to express their dissatisfaction with some of the people’s habits. However, the readers should be very careful in order to identify what part of the story to believe and which one to doubt.
Miguel de Cervantes’ “The Dogs’ Colloquy” (1972) and Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels: Part IV. A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms” (1892) are some of the brightest examples of employing animal characters to satirize and criticize the human race. The stories have divergent approaches to the narration (in Swift’s story, there is a protagonist narrator Gulliver who describes the animals, whereas, in Cervantes’ story, the narrators are animals themselves). However, the effect is similar: animal species the two books are employed with the aim of depicting the adverse features in people with the help of irony and satire. While the animal characters are not perfect themselves, they imply much more imperfection of human beings.
Cervantes, M. (1972). Exemplary Stories. (Jones, C. A. Trans.). New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Swift, J. (1892). Gulliver’s Travels: Part IV. A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms. Web.