Ishmael By Daniel Quinn Summary and Analysis Part 7

Summary

Ishmael invites the narrator to imagine himself in a foreign land where everyone is happy and peaceable. The people he visits, the C's, explain that they eat their neighbors (the B's), and the B's eat the next people over (the A's), and the A's eat the C's. Ishmael says that as a visitor, the narrator might be baffled by these practices, but that everyone in the society finds his confusion amusing, as they say it is the law of the land and it works for them. Ishmael then challenges the narrator to find, without asking the A's, B's, or C's, a means by which to discover what the law is that they follow. Through more questioning, the narrator discovers he has three guides with which to narrow down the law by which they live: what makes their society successful, what people in the society never do, and what a person who has broken the law has done that the others never do.

Then, Ishmael explains the signs of the law that life follows. He says that outside the Taker culture, animals coexist with their predators in relative peace. For instance, a lion kills only because he's hungry; he doesn't perpetrate some sort of gazelle massacre. All of the species of creatures on the planet have followed this rule and prospered; it is only that when a portion of humans decided to abandon the law and live beyond it that Earth's ecosystems were thrown out of balance.

Ishmael instructs the narrator to leave and to come back only after he's discovered the rule or rules by which the Leavers and the rest of life on Earth live. The narrator feels dejected at this prospect and goes out for a drink. He realizes that he doesn't want to complete this task, not so much because he doesn't want to know the answer, but because he wants to have a teacher for life, and once he's learned Ishmael's lesson he'll be left alone again.

Analysis

In this section, Quinn employs analogy to explain Ishmael's perspective on the world, and he expands the archetypal teacher-student relationship between Ishmael and the narrator. First, Ishmael's use of analogy once again allows the narrator to see the problems with his culture via example rather than directly. The analogy Ishmael uses is that of the A, B, and C societies, in which all the people eat each other and live in harmony because they're following the rule of their society. Ishmael's analogy allows the narrator to better see how wildlife also follows similar rules and that Takers have tried to abandon such rules. For instance, a documentarian of wildlife might highlight the gore and violence of a lion killing a gazelle, but, as Ishmael points out, the lion is not the enemy of the gazelle; rather it eats what it needs and leaves the rest of the herd alone.

Furthermore, Quinn explores the teacher-student dynamic through Ishmael's latest assignment for the narrator. For the first time, Ishmael tells the narrator to leave and not return until he's figured out the rules by which to live. The narrator is upset by this proposition as he realizes that, if he's successful, he'll eventually no longer be Ishmael's pupil. Thus, Quinn shows both the appeal and complications of teacher-student relationships. On one hand, the teacher and student benefit from proximity and gain excitement for their subject via their interactions. On the other, the more successful their interactions, the sooner their relationship will come to an end. Thus, the narrator must face the question: what will he do with what he's learned? What will he become when he's no longer a student?

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