Ishmael By Daniel Quinn Summary and Analysis Part 8: Sections 1-6

Summary

It takes the narrator four days to figure out the basic laws of life. He returns to Ishmael on the fifth day with his findings. He says the three basic rules are 1) do not exterminate your competition for food; 2) do not destroy your competitors' food supply in order to grow your own; and 3) do not deny access to food to others. Ishmael approves of the narrator's rules and asks what they promote. They decide it promotes diversity and survival for the community as a whole since it favors no species above the rest. Having come to this conclusion, the narrator sees that Taker culture is not so much clumsy in its execution of civilization, but is actually at war with the rest of the planet.

Ishmael then presents a brief overview of ecological principles. He says that when food supplies increase, populations increase. Additionally, when population increases, food decreases and when food decreases, population decreases as well. His explanation of these principles leads him and the narrator to discussing the role of agriculture in Taker culture. Ishmael suggests that Takers see agriculture as a means to promote unchecked growth, not simply as a means to supply food for the existing population.

This discussion leads them to the topic of famines. The narrator suggests that it's morally repugnant to Taker culture to allow others to starve; Ishmael suggests that as long as food supplies increase, the population will increase and that staving off famine by bringing in food from elsewhere only exacerbates the problem. Ishmael and the narrator agree that while Mother Culture suggests the use of population control to stop this problem, nothing is actually done to control populations, and thus the cycle of increasing food supplies and increasing populations leads to more and more groups of starving people among the population as a whole.

Analysis

In the first portion of Part 8, Quinn presents the basic laws of life and uses Ishmael and the narrator's dialogue to address the potential concerns people may have about the laws' implications. First, the narrator's presentation of the basic laws of the wild represents an answer to many of the questions raised earlier in the novel. Recall that Ishmael once asked the narrator if there were rules by which to live, and the narrator said there were not. Now, through his own thinking on the subject, the narrator suggests three basic rules by which all life must live or face the consequence of extinction. The narrator's ability to address this fundamental question foreshadows that he and Ishmael will be moving into new philosophical territory now that they've discovered the basic traits of Taker culture and the laws it defies.

However, while Ishmael and the narrator have found an answer to how to live, Quinn is quick to address potential criticisms of these laws, particularly when it comes to the problem of famine. Thus, through Ishmael and the narrator's discussion of famine, Quinn is able to explain the significance of the laws and how humanitarian efforts to feed starving people simply perpetuate the condition of starvation. Through Ishmael and the narrator's dialogue, Ishmael pushes the narrator to overcome his cultural biases and see that sending food to starving people does not change the conditions that led to their starvation. Thus, Quinn situates dialogue as an essential catalyst to social change. For instance, now that the narrator sees the logic in Ishmael's statements, he is one step closer to being able to bring about the changes he wants to see in the world.

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