Ishmael By Daniel Quinn Summary and Analysis Part 12: Sections 1-6

Summary

The narrator approaches the owner of the carnival to see if he'll sell Ishmael to him. The narrator haggles for a while, convinced he could possibly come up with enough cash to help Ishmael escape his prison. Later that night, he returns to the carnival after it closes to continue his discussion with Ishmael. A sleepy Ishmael picks up where they left off, asking the narrator to think of what happens to Leaver cultures that does not happen to Takers. The narrator, with Ishmael's help, figures out that evolution is what happens because Leavers remain within the community of life. The narrator sees then that Taker cultures not only believe that man is the end result of evolution but, by removing themselves from the rules that govern life on earth, have removed themselves from evolution, ensuring that life will not grow more complex or intelligent as it has for eons.

Through Ishmael and the narrator's discussion of evolution, the narrator sees that man is just one step in evolution's tendency toward increasing complexity and self-awareness in life-forms. Thus, he suggests that man's role on earth should not be that of a ruler but of a guide or role model — a figure that sets the standard for how self-aware, intelligent life-forms should act to benefit and promote biodiversity. The narrator also sees this idea as a way to encourage others to change the way they live because it gives them a positive story to enact rather than a negative one.

Analysis

In this section, Quinn shifts thematic focus from the past to the future through the idea of evolution and the symbol of humans as pathfinders. First, Quinn revisits the idea of evolution as a means to understanding cultural development. For instance, Ishmael helps the narrator see that humans became human through evolution and that this is still what happens to humans in Leaver culture: they have not abandoned the forces that shape evolutionary development. Thus the narrator is more equipped to analyze his own Taker culture and see how it has removed itself from the chain of evolution by living outside the ecological laws Ishmael outlined earlier in the novel.

Secondly, Quinn's use of the pathfinder as a symbol for humankind suggests a way people in Taker culture can find their way back into the community of life. So far in the novel, Ishmael and the narrator have focused on the historical events that have resulted in the current state of human dominance on the Earth: environmental degradation. Recall that during this investigation of history, Ishmael and the narrator characterized humans as the enemies of the Earth. Through the use of the symbol of a pathfinder, Quinn creates a way for humans to rethink their role on the planet so they can have a positive rather than negative impact on the world's ecology.

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