Ishmael By Daniel Quinn Summary and Analysis Part 10: Sections 1-4

Summary

The narrator's uncle visits and he gets stuck playing host for a couple days. Then the narrator is sidetracked by work and a dental emergency, causing him to miss several days of meetings with Ishmael. The narrator feels certain something bad has happened to Ishmael, and his feelings prove correct when he shows up to learn that Ishmael has been evicted.

The narrator speaks with the management company controlling Ishmael's former office, but they refuse to give him any information. He then searches for either Rachel Sokolow or the widow of Ishmael's benefactor, Rachel's father, Walter Sokolow. He finds the widow's mansion and talks with Partridge, the butler. Partridge informs the narrator that Rachel died three months ago and says someone must have helped Ishmael out, but he has no idea who such a person would be. The narrator decides to place his own personal ad in hopes of finding Ishmael's other friends and thus his location.

The personal ad is a dead end. The narrator then calls the local zoo, also to no avail. Finally, he tracks down a traveling carnival and locates Ishmael in a sideshow cage about forty miles from his former home. The narrator tries to help Ishmael, but Ishmael doesn't appreciate the narrator butting into his personal life. Ishmael refuses to speak with the narrator and, dejected, the narrator leaves.

Analysis

The start of Part 10 marks a departure from the format of the earlier portions of the novel through Quinn's use of more complex character and setting development rather than dialogue to add complexity to the themes explored earlier in the book. First, in these sections, the reader learns more about the qualities of the narrator's and Ishmael's characters. The narrator can be thoughtless, despite his dedication to saving the world and his admiration for Ishmael. For instance, although he has opportunities to tell Ishmael he can't make it, he chooses not to. His neglect of his relationship with Ishmael influences Ishmael's reaction to him when the narrator finally finds Ishmael weeks later. Ishmael is cold, distant, and wary of the narrator's desire to fix the situation. Ishmael's reaction to his new, caged life suggests that while he wants to teach humans, he's also learned to distrust their benevolence and resents his dependency on the kindness of humans in order to have a decent life.

Additionally, Quinn employs the use of action and setting to heighten the tension around Ishmael's disappearance. Recall that, for the most part, the novel has taken place through the dialogue between the narrator and Ishmael, heightening the sense of them as teacher and student, isolated from real-world demands. Ishmael's disappearance and the narrator's resulting search serve to place their philosophical discussions in a more grounded setting: they are subject to the demands and challenges of the world they've been discussing so thoroughly. Furthermore, Ishmael's new location — a cage in a traveling carnival — helps the reader see why his studies have been so important to him. Having grown up in captivity, Ishmael understands the pain of having one's fate controlled and so he passionately wants others (for example, his students) to understand not only the physical but the cultural boundaries to their existence in order to help them achieve the freedoms of which he is often deprived.

In closing, Quinn's use of characterization and focus on setting and action add complexity to the themes Ishmael and the narrator have explored so far. First, by calling into question Ishmael and the narrator's roles as teacher and student, Quinn shows they are both fallible and that the topics they're exploring are subject to and part of the difficulties they face outside their student-teacher relationship. For instance, the narrator must work for a living; Ishmael must pay his rent. These mundane responsibilities and challenges are just as much a part of what Ishmael is trying to get the narrator to understand — that is, his cultural heritage and the state of the world — as the historical and anthropological ideas with which he presents the narrator. Indeed, for the narrator to truly be able to help save the world, he must learn to reconcile the demands of his daily life with his desire to be a force of change in the world.

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