Ishmael By Daniel Quinn Summary and Analysis Part 3

Summary

The narrator arrives at Ishmael's office and notices a tape recorder on the single chair in the room. Ishmael tells him he wants to record the narrator's creation myth. The narrator insists it's not a myth; Ishmael tells him to just tell his story. The narrator goes on to describe in skeletal terms the big bang, the formation of the solar system, the evolution of life on earth, ending with the arrival of humankind. After the narrator completes his story, he and Ishmael argue as to whether or not it's a myth.

Ishmael tells his own story to try to help the narrator see his point. Ishmael imagines an anthropologist walking around on the early Earth and coming to a blob of life. The anthropologist asks the blob for its creation myth and the blog tells a story similar to the narrator's except ending with the evolution of jellyfish. The narrator is flummoxed; he sees he's missed something. Through his discussion with Ishmael, he learns that, while his myth contains facts, those facts are arranged in a way that suggests the point of the formation of the universe and evolution is the formation of man. Ishmael claims that this is the central idea behind the Takers' culture — that Earth was made to support human life — and that this premise shapes much of the culture's behavior. Ishmael assigns the narrator the task of figuring out the next part of the story of his culture for homework.

Analysis

In Part 3, Quinn begins answering the question of why things are the way they are through the use of storytelling and Ishmael and the narrator's dialogue. First, storytelling is essential to the narrator's epiphany in this section. It is only after he tells his creation story and then listens to Ishmael's nearly identical story featuring a jellyfish rather than a human at the end of it that the narrator begins to see the difference between fact and myth. Thus, storytelling works on both a micro and macro level in the formation of the novel. It serves on the macro level to help Ishmael and the narrator discuss the way culture influences humans, and on the micro level as a means for Ishmael to instruct the narrator.

Second, much of the narrator's learning occurs through his Socratic dialogue with Ishmael. Notice that many of Ishmael's statements to the narrator are in the form of leading questions. While Ishmael clearly has his own agenda, he knows that the narrator needs to be actively involved in learning in order to grasp the concepts Ishmael presents. Through the use of questioning, the narrator is able to better analyze his own culture and accept the new ideas Ishmael introduces to him. Thus, much like the motif of storytelling, questioning works on a macro and micro level in the novel. On a macro level, questioning why things are the way they are guides the form of the novel as a whole; on the micro level, questions are the stepping stones the narrator needs to grasp the concepts Ishmael wants him to understand.

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