Ishmael By Daniel Quinn Summary and Analysis Part 9: Sections 12-17

Summary

Ishmael has the narrator explain how the Leavers came to formulate these stories about the Takers. The narrator explains that Leavers saw the Takers as being crazy, acting in a way that was totally foreign to them. So, in order to understand why the Takers were invading their land and taking it from them, they had to figure out how they got to be the way they are. So, they decided the Takers had taken the wisdom of the gods and were trying to use it as their own and that the gods, upset with these Takers, had banished them from the garden of life, forcing these people to get their food through the hard work of farming.

Ishmael approves of the narrator's explanation and expands on it by saying that this explains why agriculture is characterized as a curse in these stories, for the Leavers could not understand why a people would want to work so hard to subsist.

The narrator, however, still has a few questions. First, he asks why Cain is the firstborn and Abel the second-born son. Ishmael and the narrator explore this question and decide that Cain and Abel are to be interpreted symbolically and that in many allegories it is the second son who is for a long time overshadowed by the firstborn, becoming an underdog hero of sorts. The narrator is also confused about Eve, since Eve's name doesn't mean woman (as Adam's means man), but rather means life. Ishmael explains that when the Takers took from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they made the decision to grow without limit. Thus, the person who offers them this opportunity is called life. Ishmael says this idea is continually perpetuated in Taker culture as Taker families see bearing children as a right, regardless of overpopulation's effect on other life-forms.

Finally, Ishmael asks the narrator to reiterate what they've discussed. The narrator stumbles along, trying to figure out how the story makes sense from a Taker perspective. The best he can do is to suggest that the issue, in the Taker perspective, is not the right to have the knowledge of the gods, but the issue of disobedience — Adam fell from grace not for the knowledge he obtained, but for disobeying the gods' order. The narrator agrees with Ishmael that the story makes much more sense when told from the Leavers' perspective.

Analysis

In the final sections of Part 9, Quinn revisits the ideas presented earlier in Part 9 by analyzing the Leaver-originated myths Ishmael and the narrator have already discussed, looking at the symbolic features of characters in these myths, and finally exploring how these myths have been appropriated by Taker culture. First, Ishmael and the narrator analyze what they've learned about the myths of The Fall and Cain and Abel so far. To begin, Ishmael asks the narrator to explain how these myths came to be in the first place. The narrator answers this question by explaining that the Leavers were trying to work backward from the Takers behavior: the Takers are acting in a way no one else does, how did they get to be this way? The myths thus serve to explain Taker behavior. Thus, Ishmael helps the narrator to see how Leavers saw the Takers as cursed (not special or blessed, as Takers see themselves).

Ishmael and the narrator's analysis intensifies through looking at the symbolic qualities of the characters in the stories, mainly Cain, Abel, and Eve. First, Cain and Abel are symbolic of brothers, and are not to be read as actual human brothers. Thus, Abel becomes the overshadowed but righteous younger brother featured in many allegories, and Cain the overbearing older brother. Additionally, Eve is also explained as a symbol since her name means life. Ishmael explains that she is symbolic of life rather than death because of the Takers' appropriation of the story. Whereas the Leavers saw the story of The Fall as the story of the Takers becoming cursed, the Takers saw it as the story of their growth — their grasp on life. Thus Eve's name is one of the ways the Takers appropriated the story to make sense on their terms and not on Leaver terms.

Finally, Ishmael helps the narrator see how the story of The Fall has evolved not to explain the formation of humans on earth, but the formation of a specific culture — Taker culture. The key way the Takers manipulated the original Leaver story to situate Adam as a protagonist is to change why Adam was punished. In the Leavers' interpretation of the story, Adam is punished for seeking the god's knowledge; in the Takers' interpretation, he is punished for disobeying the gods, not for the knowledge he gained. Thus, the Takers are able to make the story a tale of hope — Adam, although disobedient, has gained control over life itself — rather than a tale of warning, as it is for the Leavers — Adam has eaten of the gods' tree and thus must die.

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