Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael discusses the aspiration the character Ishmael has toward teaching his student known as the narrator to “save the world”. Ishmael teaches the narrator to understand and form ideas, based on examining the question “why are things are the way they are”? Ishmael 's teaching help the narrator and the reader explore culture and ourselves in a new light, helping the narrator and the reader understand the quote stating "It should be noted that what is crucial to your survival as a race is not the redistribution of power and wealth within the prison but rather the destruction of the prison itself."(255). In order to interpret the quote the narrator and ourselves first had to understand “why things are the way they are”.
To begin, Ishmael presents the narrator with two groups, takers and leavers. Takers are people who are “civilized”, and have adapted to the agricultural lifestyle developed by other takers in an earlier time, whereas leavers, all other cultures who are identified as “primitive”, live under the hands of the gods. Ishmael explains how both groups have their own story, forming a relation with the gods and man, and they enact to make the story true.
By enacting together they make up a culture, the taker culture and the leaver culture. Ishmael explains how a persuasive story is successful. Mother culture has presented the taker culture with a persuasive story, which has the ability to make the taker culture believe it and follow it without even noticing. Ishmael uses mythical stories to help the narrator understand the terms, and for the narrator to see the two groups from a different perspective. Ishmael presents the biblical story of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from the tree of good/evil and knowledge.
Adam and Eve both disobeyed and ate from the tree. Takers believe because Adam ate from the tree he gained the knowledge of the gods. Adam obtained the knowledge that led him to believe that the world was made for man to dominate. Takers believe humans are above all other creatures on earth. Takers believe they are meant to be highly advanced with dominating power that will lead to humans dominating not only the world but the universe. The new belief led to the development of agriculture.
Leavers are the group who live under the hands of the gods. Leavers believe life should be lived day by day, by working hard and accepting what life offers and takes away. Unlike the taker culture who believe they are above all other creatures, the leaver culture does not believe that and interpret the story of Adam and Eve to be the answer to why the taker culture has expanded overtime.
The leaver culture believe knowledge of the gods is not meant for life on earth, for this reason is why the leaver culture live under the hands of the gods. They believe that by following the rules that govern, the cycle of life will remain peaceful, without any harm or complications, making life free to live. Ishmael views the taker culture as prisoners of mother culture. Mother culture has fed the taker culture so many lies, leading them to be prisoners that cannot see the truth just as they cannot see the bars of the prison, this brings us back to the quote stating "It should be noted that what is crucial to your survival as a race is not the redistribution of power and wealth within the prison but rather the destruction of the prison itself."(255).
The quote implies that instead of focusing on power, dominance, and wealth, the taker culture should focus on uncovering the truth about their culture, and live the lifestyle of the leaver culture. The taker culture are prisoners, blinded to the truth by their self-centered thoughts. We see the example of being blind to the truth in Sophocles play The Oedipus cycle. Oedipus and his wife/mother were blind to their fate, both tried to change their fate because of the prophecies they were told.
Oedipus left his parents, Jocasta and king Laius sent their son to get killed but it all turned back on them, all the prophecies came true. Oedipus’ and Jocasta’s own ignorance did not let them see the truth about their life, leading them to their own destruction. Like Oedipus, the taker culture are leading themselves to their own destruction, not only each individual but the world itself. The taker culture focuses on advancing and dominating, but do not see how buried in lies they are, prisoners to their own self-centered thoughts.
We the see an example of taker culture in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is a wealthy, handsome king. His self-centered thoughts caused him to feel above the people in the city of Uruk. When Gilgamesh friend Enkidu passed away, Gilgamesh felt the need to find immortally in order for him not to face death. He was determined to find the answer, and be like the gods who possess immortality. It was not until Gilgamesh talked to a man who possesses immortality that he realized immortality was not meant for life on earth.
Life was meant to being enjoyed every day. Gilgamesh broke down the prison of his self-centered thoughts and was able to view life with new eyes, he accepted what life offered, just as the taker culture does. The taker culture is blinded to the truth about their culture and must uncover the truth in order to break down and completely destroy the prison that holds them captive, before the prison destroys them.
Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, discusses the monomyth, a hero goes on a quest wins a victory and returns from the quest transformed. The taker culture are the ones on that quest. Life is the journey, the victory they must win is to destroy the prison, and transformation will lead to uncovering the truth within their culture by obtaining the knowledge and mind of the leaver culture.
The taker culture will learn to create a spiritual connection with the universe instead of dominating the universe. Psychological aspects of the mind and spirt will aid in the transformation of the taker culture to the leaver culture. From reading the novel Ishmael I, like the narrator have a new perspective of culture, the points the novel has focused on have formed ideas in my mind that I have never thought about. I agree with the character Ishmael. The taker culture is like many of us, we only focus on staying at the top of the pyramid.
Agriculture has been a part of our lives for many years that it has been engraved in our mind as the only way of survival. We are always looking for ways to advance, whether it be by technological innovations or wealth, we feel the purpose of our lives are to make it to the top tip of the pyramid. We may identify ourselves belonging to different cultures but under a microscope we are a blob that makes up the taker culture, whereas the leaver culture is so small that it is not visible next to the taker culture. The lies we do not see will continue to imprison us.
The taker culture must win the victory of discovering the truth in order to transform. We must not be blind like Oedipus, and let our own ignorance be our destruction, we must not focus on being “better” like Gilgamesh, instead we must find a spiritual connection with the world like Campbell discusses. At the end of the novel, Ishmael dies of pneumonia, the narrator must choose whether or not to keep Ishmael’s teachings alive, and the narrator is the one who can bring hope to humanity. The character Ishmael states, if one individual discovers the truth, it will make no difference, but if the entire human population were to discover the truth it could change the entire world.
Furthermore, Daniel Quinn’s novel has introduced me to a new perspective of culture, just as Ishmael has introduced the narrator to a new perspective of culture as well. By understanding why things are the way they are, the narrator and myself the reader can interpret the mythical tales of life with new understanding and insight. Reading the novel has pushed me to form ideas that have allowed me to agree with Ishmael’s teachings.
The ideas I have formed have also aided me in interpreting the quote “It should be noted that what is crucial to your survival as a race is not the redistribution of power and wealth within the prison but rather the destruction of the prison itself. The taker culture must discover the truth, by uncovering the truth humanity and the universe can have hope and destroy the prison that prevents them from living life with the mind and rules of the leaver culture.