Ishmael By Daniel Quinn Summary and Analysis Part 11

Summary

The next day, the narrator and Ishmael resume their talk. Ishmael challenges the narrator to think of why he wants to know the story Leaver cultures enact now that he knows the Takers' story. At first, the narrator is unable to provide a legitimate answer, but finally he realizes that he, like others who are worried about the destruction of the world, needs a new story to enact — it's not enough to toss off the old one.

To begin their exploration of Leaver cultures, Ishmael asks the narrator what Mother Culture would say the Agricultural Revolution was about. The narrator says it's perceived as a purely technological development, whereas Ishmael attests that it was much more than that. He says that Mother Culture also teaches that life before the Agricultural Revolution was horrible and that to live that way would be reprehensible. He suggests that the narrator and everyone in Taker culture still holds this belief — even the poorest members of Taker culture, who may be homeless, jobless, and lacking opportunities to improve their lives.

In order to help the narrator better understand Takers' dismissal of Leaver lifestyles and Leavers' tenacious desire to keep their lifestyles, Ishmael takes on the role of a Leaver and the narrator the role of a Taker trying to convince the Leaver to adopt a Taker lifestyle, to give up hunting and gathering to become a farmer. In their roles, the narrator and Ishmael go back and forth and the narrator tries to convince Ishmael's "Leaver" persona that life will be easier if he knows he always has food and doesn't have to worry about finding it every day. Ishmael's character finds this insane as he's never worried that food wouldn't be there — the whole world is filled with food. If no deer today, then rabbits, for instance. The narrator keeps pushing and finally tells Ishmael that while he may have enough food, he doesn't have enough to free himself from the gods — from the fickleness of fate, so to speak. He says that the gods are useless and that to have a better life, Ishmael's character must take matters into his own hands, to ensure he has food no matter what the gods let happen.

The narrator realizes that the point of Taker culture is to live outside the hands of the "gods" — that is, to no longer be subject to the rules that orchestrate ecosystems and biological balance. Leavers, however, live according to these rules and find it satisfying, as they never have to work too hard to eat and accept the benefits and hardships of living according to the laws of nature.

Analysis

Quinn employs the use of anecdote and role-playing to help Ishmael and the narrator regain their teacher-student relationship and push the narrator to more fully understand the philosophical ideas Ishmael presents. Ishmael uses an anecdote to help the narrator understand his own way of thinking about culture. In the anecdote, Ishmael creates a hypothetical situation in which a poor, ill-educated person, with no hopes of an improved future, is given a magic box with a button on it. If he pushes the button, he'll be whisked back in time to a thriving hunter-gatherer society, equipped with complete knowledge of the tribe's culture and language. When confronted with this hypothetical situation, the narrator says the hypothetical man, or any person in Taker society for that matter, would reject the offer because Mother Culture has taught him that such a lifestyle is intrinsically worse than anything Taker culture has to offer. Through the use of this anecdote, Ishmael helps the narrator see his own prejudices.

Ishmael also uses role-playing to help the narrator understand the points he's trying to make. During the role-play, Ishmael acts like a person from a Leaver culture and the narrator acts like a person from Taker culture who is trying to convince the Leaver to give up his way of life. Through their interaction, Quinn not only explicates more of the nuances of the philosophy he explores in the novel, but also adds complexity to Ishmael and the narrator's teacher-student relationship. Recall that, for the most part, Ishmael's teaching techniques have been to ask the narrator questions and tell him stories to help him understand the ideas he's trying to present. Through the use of role-playing, Ishmael forces the narrator to take a more active role in his learning and thus gain a fuller understanding of the differences between Taker and Leaver cultures.

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