Ishmael By Daniel Quinn Summary and Analysis Part 8: Sections 7-10

Summary

Ishmael directs the narrator's attention to a book he's left by his chair, The American Heritage Book of Indians, and instructs him to look at the map. Ishmael asks the narrator how Native American populations managed their numbers. The narrator is unsure, so Ishmael compares the situation of Native Americans to that of contemporary Americans moving across the country because of crowding. The narrator admits there's nothing stopping people from changing geographies, and this helps Ishmael make his key point: there were cultural and territorial boundaries between the diverse tribes that lived in the Americas prior to the arrival of European settlers. These strict cultural and territorial boundaries, enforced both by customs and violence when necessary, restricted populations to manageable sizes and allowed all tribes to coexist more or less peaceably.

Ishmael continues by asking the narrator if he now believes there are laws to live by; the narrator admits that he does, but he's unsure how to apply what he's learned to the world in which he lives. The narrator feels hopeless; he thinks no one in Taker culture will be willing to kill off Mother Culture and try another way of life. However, Ishmael suggests there are plenty of people fed up with the emptiness of Taker lifestyle and that there is hope for change.

Finally, Ishmael and the narrator look over the three rules the narrator explained earlier in the day. The narrator searches for an umbrella law to cover these three smaller laws. Ishmael helps the narrator see that the overarching law is that the world was made for many species to live on, not for one to dominate the rest. He says that tomorrow they'll talk about the story Leaver cultures enact, but before they end their session, he wants to give the narrator one last thing to think about. Ishmael says that one of the key drawbacks of Taker culture, besides not being sustainable, is the loneliness and depression that plagues people living in Taker culture. They fill their lives with distractions and drugs to make up for the lack of satisfaction they feel in general.

Analysis

In these sections of Part 8, Quinn expands the scope of the teacher-student relationship, begins to align his philosophy with practical application, and foreshadows a shift in focus to Leaver culture. Quinn expands his definition of a strong teacher-student relationship when Ishmael points the narrator to The American Heritage Book of Indians. By allowing his student to reference this text, Ishmael demonstrates another key characteristic of a good teacher: modesty. Recall that during his time with Mr. Sokolow, Ishmael spent much of his time reading. Thus, the reader knows that Ishmael has read widely, so he could have simply told the narrator what he wanted him to discover. However, by having Ishmael give the narrator a text to use, Quinn furthers his definition of what makes a good teacher and a good student — they must both be open to looking beyond themselves for solutions to complex problems.

The novel shifts away from pure philosophical debate and discussion toward how these philosophical ideas can be applied in contemporary Taker culture. Now that the narrator has a fuller understanding of the basic laws of life on the planet, he can see how Taker culture ignores or defies these laws. Through this increase in understanding, the narrator desires to find a way to apply the laws to the world. Ishmael responds to the narrator's desire by suggesting that change is possible if enough people believe in it and take action to make it happen. Through this discussion, Quinn encourages the reader to think more deeply about the ideas he's presented and their application to the reader's own life. Are these ideas plausible? Is change necessary? How can change be wrought if it is necessary?

Part 8 ends by foreshadowing a closer look at Leaver culture. To this point, Leaver culture hasn't been discussed in great detail, but already it stands in contrast to Taker culture. For instance, Leaver cultures obey the basic laws that the narrator outlines at the beginning of Part 8. Secondly, as Ishmael points out, people in Leaver cultures experience dramatically fewer cases of addiction and suicide. These initial findings foreshadow that adopting the traits of Leaver culture might be a key way to change the destructive path Taker culture is on and may help the narrator with his quest to find practical applications for the ideas he's learning about.

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