Ishmael By Daniel Quinn Summary and Analysis Part 5

Summary

The next day, Ishmael and his student try to figure out the end of the story. First, Ishmael has the narrator review the story so far; in doing so, the narrator is able to continue it. He says that while man has been put on Earth to conquer it, in conquering it he's caused a lot of problems. The solution to those problems is to continue pursuing mastery of the world at every level so as to finally achieve a manageable paradise, and in doing so, be able to spread out and conquer the universe.

Ishmael applauds the narrator's efforts, but asks him what the "but" is. The narrator figures out that the unspoken "but" at the end of his story is that humans are inherently flawed and thus will continue to screw up their pursuit of paradise.

The narrator is incredulous; he can't believe that it's false that human nature is flawed. Ishmael asks what evidence his culture uses to back up its claim of being flawed, and the narrator admits it only uses its own history — not the history of the Leavers or, that is to say, of hunter-gatherer cultures.

Ishmael tells the narrator there are a few more pieces of the puzzle they need to cover before they can go on to the next level. He brings up the topic of prophets and asks the narrator why Taker culture is so obsessed with prophets. The narrator says it's because Mother Culture says humans do not know how to live, so they rely on prophets to tell them what to do. Once again, Ishmael applauds the narrator's efforts and builds on his statements, concluding that the flaw in humans is that they do not know how to live; if they knew how to live, their flaw would be in check. He says that Taker philosophy is pretty depressing and that there is indeed another way to look at humankind. But he puts that off for tomorrow, saying that today has been about sightseeing — seeing the pieces of culture natives to that culture take for granted.

Analysis

In Part 5, Ishmael uses storytelling as well as metaphor to help his pupil understand the cultural myths structuring his understanding of the world. First, Ishmael encourages the narrator to use story to understand the trajectory of Taker culture. The narrator, having learned from his experience with telling the first and middle part of the Taker story, quickly finishes the story. He explains the Taker goal of conquering the world in order to achieve paradise. Thus, once again, Quinn uses storytelling as both a tool for understanding within the narrative as well as within culture, for storytelling is what allows the narrator to see his cultural story more objectively.

Additionally, Ishmael uses metaphor to help his pupil gain a better grasp of what they've achieved so far. The metaphor Ishmael uses is that of sightseeing. He explains that tourists see all the sights of a nation to which the natives have grown so accustomed that they don't see them anymore. Through this metaphor, Ishmael helps the narrator understand what they've accomplished: they've started to see the landmarks of Taker culture that the narrator has taken for granted his entire life. Now that the landmarks are in place, Ishmael foreshadows that the narrator is ready for the next step — to see the world through the Leavers' eyes, rather than the Takers'.

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