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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Bantam edition of Ishmael published in 1995.
Chapter 1 Quotes

TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Ishmael
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

When the narrator of Ishmael reads these words in the newspaper, he's at first dismissive, then thoughtful, then a little inspired. The narrator finds the notion of "saving the world" ridiculous—surely only children and crazy hippies would ever commit to something as silly as saving the world. And yet the narrator begins to see that his own contemptuousness is what's shallow and silly; rather, it's the people who try to save the world who are most earnest and admirable in their earnestness.

It's also important to notice that the teacher (later revealed to be Ishmael) is requesting a student—not the other way around. The reversal in student-teacher roles (i.e., the fact that for once, a student is asking to be taught) tells us a lot about the way that the narrator will go about learning from Ishmael. The hypothetical student mentioned in the newspaper ad could never ask a teacher for his services, because he could never know what he's supposed to be learning. By the same token, the narrator, as we'll see, cannot simply be told the information Ishmael has acquired over a lifetime; instead, the narrator must grasp the information step-by-step, lesson-by-lesson.


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Then one day when I was in my mid-teens I woke up and realized that the new era was never going to begin. The revolt hadn’t been put down, it had just dwindled away into a fashion statement. Can I have been the only person in the world who was disillusioned by this?

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator explains his history and how he sees the world. In the 1960s, he was young and idealistic, and like many people of the time he felt that the sincere, earnest people could heal the world of its fundamental problems, such as poverty, war, and racism. Over the next few decades, however, this idealism waned and the "revolution" just never happened. Now, the narrator argues, the desire to make the world a better place is a mere affectation; in other words, the people who claim this desire for themselves aren't really concerned with helping others—they just want to seem "hip."

This quotation outlines a basic problem (the decline of radicalism and earnestness in society) to which Ishmael reacts. As Ishmael will argue, the radicalism and politicization of the 1960s failed because it didn't address the root cause of society's problems. Every measure the hippies of the 1960s proposed was just another form of "lipstick on a pig"—i.e., a superficial change that ignored the real problem with the world. (What this "real problem" is won't be made clear for hundreds of pages.)


Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Ishmael
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

When the narrator goes to visit Ishmael for the first time, he sees a sign bearing this rhetorical question. The narrator interprets the question as a kind of Zen koan—a cryptic sentence designed to provoke thought and meditation, rather than any clear-cut answer. In the spirit of a Zen koan, here are some possible interpretations of the question:

1) The question is designed to satirize mankind's arrogance. According to the way human beings see the world, man is the dominant species, and all other animals (not just gorillas) are humans' servants, enemies, or pets. The question takes an overbearing, paternalistic tone, as if mankind were an elder brother or father, and gorillas were the younger sibling or child.

2) By the same token, the question is meant to provoke our thoughts of the end of the human species. The notion of man being "gone" was inconceivable even 100 years before the book was written; only in recent years have the rise of nuclear war, environmental awareness, etc. challenged the notion that human beings will always walk the Earth.

3) The question is meant to suggest that gorillas are humans' natural successors on the evolutionary tree. According to one (incorrect) interpretation of the theory of evolution, gorillas and other primates are early "descendants" of human beings, from whom our species evolved. The question seems to assume that humans will go extinct, like the majority of all animals on Earth, and gorillas will evolve to become the new "rulers" of the planet. The question further asks if gorillas will learn from humans' mistakes, or if they, too, will pollute, wage war, etc. The question might also be asking if humans themselves can learn from their own mistakes.

“On the basis of my history, what subject would you say I was best qualified to teach?”

I blinked and told him I didn’t know.

“Of course you do. My subject is captivity.”

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Ishmael, the enormous ape who acts as a teacher to the Narrator, claims to be teaching his pupil about captivity. At first, it appears that Ishmael is making a very literal point: he's spent most of his life imprisoned behind glass or in cages, and therefore, he's qualified to talk about these experiences. But as the novel goes on, it becomes clear that Ishmael is making a deeper, more abstract point. As the Narrator comes to realize, almost all human beings are "captives" of a system of belief. This system of belief, that of the Taker culture, imprisons people by feeding them lies, such as the lie that humans are "made" to inherit the Earth; that their resources will never run out, etc. The greatest strength of the Takers' form of imprisonment is its invisibility: the Takers don't even realize that they're slaves.

Ironically, Ishmael's literal captivity allows him to see through the abstract captivity of Taker mythology. Because he surrounded by glass and metal, he can never forget that the human race is imprisoned by invisible but equally powerful forces.

Chapter 2 Quotes

As I say, there were many in Germany who recognized this story as rank mythology. They were nevertheless held captive by it simply because the vast majority around them thought it sounded wonderful and were willing to give up their lives to make it a reality.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Ishmael and the Narrator discuss an old problem of philosophy: can people be made to believe anything, simply because their peers believe the same? For the Narrator, the ultimate example of this principle is Fascist Germany. Millions of educated people were convinced that Jews and other minorities are the enemy of a "pure" human race.

The history of Germany under the Nazis illustrates the idea that humans are constantly being influenced by stories and myths. These myths are so powerful and pervasive that people often don't notice that they exist at all. And there are even some human beings who recognize the myths as fictions, but continue to go through the motions of believing the myths anyway.

The fact that it's possible for people to know that something is a myth and yet continue to act like it's the truth reminds us of why Ishmael's lessons for the Narrator take such a strange form. It is not enough for Ishmael to tell the Narrator the truth about humanity, the environment, and economics—the information itself probably wouldn't sway the Narrator at all. Instead, Ishmael wants the Narrator to piece through history and economics slowly and carefully, so that he understands and even embodies the ideas that Ishmael is trying to pass on.

And when we’re finished, you’ll have an entirely new perception of the world and of all that’s happened here. And it won’t matter in the least whether you remember how that perception was assembled. The journey itself is going to change you, so you don’t have to worry about memorizing the route we took to accomplish that change.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

There's an old cliche that "the journey is more important than the destination." As far as Ishmael is concerned, this idea is the guiding law of education. Ishmael has summoned the Narrator to his cage because he wants the Narrator to understand some basic truths about the world. The Narrator has no idea what these truths might be—he's motivated by a desire to learn and to "save the world" but nothing more specific. In short, Ishmael is going to teach the Narrator about a subject so strange and new that there's no name for it.The passage also reminds us that the Narrator isn't a character so much as a stand-in for readers. While it's true that the Narrator has some recognizable qualities (his love for drinking, for example), his purpose in the novel is to model the process of education that Ishmael describes in this quotation. In other words, the Narrator is meant to be an ideal reader; someone who carefully moves through each chapter of the book, until he's arrived at the truth the author/teacher is trying to express.

Chapter 4 Quotes

You didn’t believe me when I said that this is ambient in your culture. Now you see what I mean. The mythology of your culture hums in your ears so constantly that no one pays the slightest bit of attention to it. Of course man is conquering space and the atom and the deserts and the ocean and the elements. According to your mythology, this is what he was born to do.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Ishmael tries to explain the guiding “myths” of human culture. For Ishmael, one feature of a myth is its invisibility, or ambience. The great myth of human civilization—so pervasive that it's undetectable, just as water is undetectable to a fish—is that humans were "made" to rule the planet. From the time they're children, humans are conditioned to believe that the world is their property: they can do whatever they choose with whatever parts of it they have access to. The first step in freeing the Narrator from the myths of his culture, then, is to identify these myths. By discussing the mythology of his civilization with Ishmael, the Narrator continuously reminds himself of these myths, until they slowly cease to influence him. As George Orwell wrote, "It is a constant act of strength to see what is right in front of your nose."

Chapter 5 Quotes

“It’s because there’s something fundamentally wrong with humans. Something that definitely works against paradise. Something that makes people stupid and destructive and greedy and shortsighted.”

“Of course. Everyone in your culture knows this. Man was born to turn the world into a paradise, but tragically he was born flawed.”

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Ishmael and the Narrator clarify the mythology of human civilization. While it's true that humans are indoctrinated to believe that they will "inherit the Earth"—i.e., that the world is their property—this isn't the whole story. Humans are told that they were meant to bring paradise to the world. But when they look around, they see misery instead: pollution, war, crime, etc. So almost by definition, the myth of human civilization has two parts: first, that man was created to rule the world; second, that man was born deeply flawed, and can't help destroying the world because of his flaws. (Oswald Spengler called this the "Faustian archetype.") Paradoxically, then, Ishmael is offering the Narrator a much more modest and yet much more ambitious view of humanity. On one hand, Ishmael rejects the bombastic idea that humans rule the world; but on the other, he insists that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with us at all—or at least nothing that we can't change.

One of the most striking features of Taker culture is its passionate and unwavering dependence on prophets. The influence of people like Moses, Gautama Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, and Muhammed in Taker history is simply enormous.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

Ishmael points out some of the basic qualities of the Takers: i.e., the human beings who believe in the myth that they were created to own and dominate the planet. One of the most basic qualities of the Takers is that they like being told what to do: they choose to worship figures like Jesus who promise them enlightenment in return for worship or belief. As Ishmael sees it, the reason for Takers' unabashed worship of prophets is their fervent belief in their own imperfection. Takers believe—have no choice but to believe—that they've squandered their inheritance as rulers of the Earth. As a result, they turn to religious figures who can forgive them for their sins and restore them to glory. One important question this passage raises then, is what's the difference between Ishmael and the prophets he just named? A partial answer would be that Ishmael isn't offering anything to the Narrator for free. Where Jesus or Buddha offered their followers clear, proverbial versions of the truth, Ishmael wants the Narrator to work to discover his own truth. Ishmael's job isn't to tell the Narrator what to think; it's to guide him on a more personal, individual path to enlightenment. Because he refuses to actually lead the Narrator, Ishmael is very different from a prophet.

Chapter 6 Quotes

Though the Takers don’t know it yet, the gods did not exempt man from the law that governs the lives of grubs and ticks and shrimps and rabbits and mollusks and deer and lions and jellyfish. They did not exempt him from this law any more than they exempted him from the law of gravity.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

Although human civilization claims to be governed by a myth—the myth of human dominance—Ishmael claims that human civilization is governed by the laws of nature. Naturally, humans reject the idea that they're the same as other animals—it's inconceivable that they'd have to obey the same laws as other life forms.

Arguably the most important word in this entire quotation is "yet." The basic law of nature that Ishmael is referring to here is that, in the end, human beings will go extinct because of their abuses of the environment—no species can survive while consuming its own resources exponentially. So it's inevitable that, at some point in the future, the human race will have to face the consequences of its behavior: it just hasn't done so "yet."

But your craft isn’t going to save you. Quite the contrary, it’s your craft that’s carrying to toward the catastrophe. Five billion of people pedaling away—or ten billion or twenty billions—can’t make it fly. It’s been in free fall from the beginning and that fall is about to end.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Ishmael explains the future of human civilization to the Narrator by making an analogy: civilization is like a failed flying machine. As billions of human beings try to operate the flying machine, they have the exhilarating feeling that they're defying the laws of gravity. The crux of Ishmael's analogy is that falling and flying feel exactly the same: in other words, civilization has been declining for thousands of years, even while human beings think that civilization is solving all their problems.

The passage is a good example of the way that Ishmael teaches the Narrator. Again and again, he relies on analogies and elaborate metaphors (at various points, he compares civilization to a flying machine, a waterfall, a concert, etc.). Because the concepts Ishmael teaches are so complicated, he must clarify them by comparing them to objects and situations with which the Narrator is already familiar. The passage also shows Ishmael at his most prophetic—for all the differences between Ishmael and Buddha or Jesus, he's making a grim prediction of mankind's future, and this is the very definition of a prophet.

Chapter 7 Quotes

The gazelle and the lion are enemies only in the minds of the Takers. The lion that comes across a herd of gazelles doesn’t massacre them, as an enemy would. It kills one, not to satisfy its hatred of gazelles but to satisfy its hunger, and once it has made its kill the gazelles are perfectly content to go on grazing with the lion right in their midst.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

Ishmael tries to teach the Narrator about the interconnectedness of the natural world. In order to do so, Ishmael must free the Narrator from the constraints of "right" and "wrong," or at least as humans understand these concepts. For animals, as distinct from humans, there is no "wrong" in killing to survive—as Ishmael points out, gazelles will continue grazing even after a lion kills and eats one of them. On the contrary, the animals of the natural world have evolved to coexist with one another. Whether or not they're consciously aware of it, the creatures of the natural world fully accept that they're going to have to play by nature's rules; in short, that other animals are going to eat them. The quotation thus points out an irony in the way humans view the world. Humans seem to have no problem destroying entire species, and yet they can also find it "savage" for one lion to kill and eat one gazelle. It's as if a mass murderer got offended by a petty crime.

There was more to it than this, however, because I still felt depressed. A second bourbon helped me to it: I was making progress. That’s right. This was the source of my feeling of depression.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Alcohol and Painkillers
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

This quotation shows the Narrator grappling with anxiety and depression. He's deeply conflicted about the lessons he's been learning from Ishmael—he believes that they're true, and yet he also struggles to live by them. In other words, the Narrator finds it easy to recognize that Taker culture is based on lies, but he hesitates to abandon Taker culture, with all its luxuries and conveniences, altogether. In his depression, the Narrator turns to alcohol and painkillers to feel better—but of course, these substances only make him feel worse in the long run. Interestingly, the Narrator's behavior in this scene is also meant to suggest the broader failure of his society's idealism since the 1960s. The Narrator recognizes that in the 60s there were millions of people struggling to solve the world's problems and reform society. But most of these people's efforts were in vain, because they could never get to the root cause of society's problems. In their frustration, the hippies and reformers of the 60s turned to alcohol, drugs, and other substances, just as the Narrator does in this quotation.

I had to face it: I didn’t just want a teacher—I wanted a teacher for life.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Ishmael
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

At the midway point of the book, the Narrator faces some difficult truths about his relationship with Ishmael. Ishmael has taught the Narrator a lot of important information about human civilization, and the Narrator, for his part, has been receptive to this information. He's done his homework when Ishmael gives him a deep problem to contemplate, and he's done his best to see Ishmael as much as possible. But in spite of the Narrator's abilities as a student, he struggles with Ishmael's most basic lesson of all: independence. Ishmael doesn't just want to give the Narrator knowledge of Takers and Leavers; he also wants the Narrator to discover this knowledge for himself, and incorporate it into his everyday life. At this point in the novel, the Narrator isn't ready to do this; he continues to depend on Ishmael to tell him what to believe—basically he wants Ishmael to act like a prophet for him. In short, the Narrator still has a long way to go before he's truly mastered what Ishmael is trying to teach him.

Chapter 8 Quotes

The more competitors you destroy, the more humans you can bring into the world, and that makes it just about the holiest work there is. Once you exempt yourself from the law of limited competition, everything in the world except your food and the food of your food becomes an enemy to be exterminated.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Ishmael shows the Narrator how the one basic premise of human civilization—the premise that man controls the world and can do with it whatever he wishes—determines how people view the world's plants and animals. The job of a farmer, for example, is to supply the maximum amount of food to the maximum amount of people—as Ishmael says, this is "holy work." But in order to maximize production, farmers must exterminate creatures that compete with humans for food—carnivores, pests, etc. Because humans believes that the only true "good" is humanity itself, then they must also conclude that any life that challenges humans' supply of food is "evil." Ishmael wants the Narrator—and us, the readers—to notice the narrow-mindedness of human civilizations' assumptions. Common sense dictates that animals aren't our enemies simply because they need to eat to survive; and yet human civilization pressures human beings to believe that animals absolutely are our "enemies to be exterminated." We're so conditioned to think in civilization's terms that we don't see how bizarre and brutal civilization can be in the larger scheme of things.

If you go among the various peoples of your culture—if you go to China and Japan and Russia and England and India—each people will give you a completely different account of themselves, but they are nonetheless enacting a single basic story, which is the story of the Takers. The same is true of the Leavers. The Bushmen of Africa, the Alawa of Australia, the Kreen-Akrore of Brazil, and the Navajo of the United States would each give you a different account of themselves but they too are all enacting one basic story, which is the story of the Leavers.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

This quotation is an important qualifier for Ishmael's lesson to the Narrator. Ishmael wants to analyze humanity by dividing humans into two groups, Takers (those who subscribe to the premise that the Earth belongs to humanity) and Leavers (those who subscribe to the premise that humans are just one of the millions of lifeforms on the Earth). Admittedly, Ishmael's division is a little simplistic—on the surface, it seems strange to say that (for example) the Chinese, the Russians, and the English are all members of the same "culture." But the point isn't that Russian and Chinese people are exactly the same. Instead, Ishmael is trying to convince the Narrator that the vast differences between their two cultures are less important than the one, big similarity between them; namely, that both cultures believe that the planet exists "for" humanity.

Ishmael's division between Takers and Leavers reminds us that Ishmael is a storyteller: he creates a convenient, easily digestible lesson by simplifying human history into its most basic, important points. Ishmael could give a more complicated version of history, but by reducing everything to two characters, Takers and Leavers, he tells a better, more memorable story, and therefore does a better job of educating the Narrator.

Chapter 9 Quotes

When I arrived the next day, I found that a new plan was in effect: Ishmael was no longer on the other side of the glass, he was on my side of it, sprawled on some cushions a few feet from my chair. I hadn’t realized how important that sheet of glass had become to our relationship: to be honest, I felt a flutter of alarm in my stomach.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Ishmael
Related Symbols: Glass
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important quotation, the Narrator takes an important step forward with his education by meeting Ishmael face-to-face. The most important element of this scene is the glass that once separated the Narrator from his teacher. It's only now that the glass is gone that the Narrator realizes just how much this barrier had affected his relationship with Ishmael all along.

To begin with, the glass that separated the Narrator from Ishmael allowed the Narrator to distance himself from Ishmael. Even though the Narrator agreed with most of Ishmael's points and found himself looking forward to their lessons, he still couldn't help thinking of Ishmael as somehow a stranger and an alien. In other words, even when the Narrator agreed with Ishmael, he couldn't quite take Ishmael seriously—Ishmael was still just a weird, talking gorilla. The "flutter of alarm" in the Narrator's stomach signals that the Narrator is about to take Ishmael more seriously—he's going to agree with Ishmael and change his life.

The glass that distances Ishmael and the Narrator is a good example of an "ambient myth," of the kind Ishmael described previously. In much the same way that the myths of Taker culture influence human behavior while remaining invisible, the glass prevented the Narrator from really embracing Ishmael's teachings, in spite of the fact that the Narrator hadn't noticed this fact until now, when the glass is taken away.

“But it makes sense this way,” I insisted. “The mark was given to Cain as a warning to others: ‘Leave this man alone. This is a dangerous man, one who exacts sevenfold vengeance.’ Certainly a lot of people over the world have learned that it doesn’t pay to mess with people with white faces.”

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Ishmael
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Quinn ventures into racial politics for one of the few times in his novel. Ishmael and the Narrator are trying to interpret the Biblical story of Cain, the first murderer in the world. Cain, in Ishmael's historical interpretation of the Bible, is meant to be a symbol of the Caucasian societies of the Middle East. The Caucasians were some of the first people on the planet to practice Taker culture; in other words, to hoard food and resources instead of living in harmony with nature. Interpreted in this way, the Cain and Abel story is an allegory of the dangers of Caucasian culture, and of the Takers in general. As the Narrator sees it, the Cain and Abel story is also a warning about the danger of white people. Historically, people who identify as white—mostly in Europe and the Americas—have definitely been responsible for some serious bloodshed and misery: imperialism, two World Wars, slavery, the Holocaust, etc.

It's important to note that the Narrator, not Ishmael, offers a racial interpretation of the Bible. As he makes clear later on, Ishmael doesn't believe that it's useful to blame specific racial groups for the world's problems (in fact, he implies, blaming specific racial groups was one of the reasons that the radicals of the 1960s failed to achieve their goals). Instead, Ishmael wants all races and peoples of the world to unite against Taker culture. Even so, the fact that the Narrator brings up a racial interpretation of Taker culture means that Quinn thinks the interpretation is at least worth considering, even if he doesn't wholeheartedly endorse it.

Chapter 10 Quotes

FRIENDS OF ISHMAEL: another friend has lost contact. Please call and tell me where he is.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Ishmael , Rachel Sokolow
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

The Narrator is surprised and shocked to learn that Ishmael has been moved out of the warehouse where he was being kept—he may have been sold to another owner. In order to track down Ishmael, continue his lessons, and potentially free him, the Narrator now places an ad in the newspaper, asking anyone who's met Ishmael to help the Narrator find him.

The Narrator's newspaper ad suggests a couple things. First, the fact that the Narrator is placing an ad in the newspaper at all means that he's finally beginning to live Ishmael's lessons instead of merely nodding his head at them; in other words, he's freeing himself from apathy, making a concerted effort to help his friend and continue learning about Leavers and Takers. Second, the newspaper ad is meant to remind us of the ad that the Narrator came across at the beginning of the book. The ad reminds us that the Narrator began as just another ignorant Taker, but is now a "friend of Ishmael"—someone who sees through his own society's hypocrisy.

Incredible as it may seem to you, I would rather live this way than on anyone’s largess, even yours.

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Narrator spends more time with Ishmael, their relationship becomes more complicated. After the Narrator tries to track down Ishmael, he's shaken to find that Ishmael is living at a carnival. Even more strangely, Ishmael claims that he doesn't want the Narrator to buy him and free him—he prefers living in a cage to living on someone else's dime.

Ishmael's quotation could be interpreted as irritable and stubborn, and it is. Ishmael is annoyed with the Narrator for neglecting his lessons for multiple weeks, especially because it was during this time that Ishmael was sold and moved. Ishmael's claim is inconsistent with everything he's taught—as Ishmael has already shown, everyone lives on everyone else's "largess," as all life forms are dependent on one another for food and shelter. Even so, it's worth taking Ishmael's remarks seriously, because they remind us why he chooses to live in a cage in the first place. Ishmael could probably escape from captivity; he's smart and strong enough to do so. Instead, Ishmael chooses to live behind glass and metal so that he can study the world more clearly. Unlike the Narrator, who's been blinded to the realities of his life by technology, alcohol, and TV, Ishmael has no trouble breaking down human civilization into its most basic myths and stories. Ishmael is like a monk, who chooses to live in an isolated, frugal way so that he can understand life's basic truths more clearly.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“All the same, Bwana, what are we to do with this food if we don’t need it?”

“You save it! You save it to thwart the gods when they decide it’s your turn to go hungry. You save it so that when they send a drought, you can say, ‘Not me, goddamn it I’m not going hungry, and there’s nothing you can do about it, because my life is in my own hands now!’”

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

In the dramatic (and intellectual) climax of the novel, the Narrator realizes why the Takers choose to live their lives the way they do. As Ishmael goads him, the Narrator begins to see that the Takers' goal is to "thwart the gods," which are understood as nature, nature's laws, natural disasters, etc. In order to prove that they're strong and self-sufficient, the Takers choose to hoard food, water, and supplies, so that they can survive any disaster nature throws their way. In doing so, the Takers distinguish themselves from all other forms of life. As we've already seen, other animals don't hoard resources; instead, they live and die with the elements, never taking more than they need in the short term.

The quotation is a good example of Ishmael's novel teaching strategy. Instead of telling the Narrator the truth about the Takers, Ishmael pushes, pressures, and even teases "Bwana" (the Narrator) into realizing the truth himself. In this section, the Narrator doesn't say anything that he and Ishmael hadn't already discussed earlier in the novel: the Narrator already knew that Takers tried to evade nature's laws by accumulating goods (the very name "Takers" assumes this behavior). But even if he's not learning new information, the Narrator's epiphany shows that Ishmael's teaching methods have paid off. The Narrator is genuinely excited about the lesson he's just learned: because he arrived at the conclusion on his own, he'll remember it for the rest of his life.

Chapter 12 Quotes

“The premise of the Taker story is that the world belongs to man.” I thought for a couple of minutes, then I laughed. “It’s almost too neat. The premise of the Leaver story is man belongs to the world.”

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Ishmael
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

In this interesting quotation, the Narrator reduces everything he's learned about human civilization in the last 200 pages to a single, symmetrical sentence ("The premise of the Taker story ..."). As simple as it seems, a huge amount of knowledge and wisdom is crammed into this sentence. As Ishmael has shown, the Takers—really, most human civilization—accumulate the planet's resources in the delusion that these resources are limitless. Leavers, on the other hand, try to live in harmony with nature, knowing that this is the only way to survive.

The fact that the Narrator can sum up his knowledge so clearly and concisely proves how far he's come during the course of the book. In the first chapter, the Narrator was puzzling over a cryptic sentence (With man gone ..."). Now, he's writing sentences with similarly cryptic elegance, a sign that he's become wiser and more perceptive. The Narrator has become more like Ishmael himself—someone who can see, with total clarity, the flaws and contradictions of human culture.

“All along, I’ve been saying to myself, ‘Yes, this is all very interesting, but what good is it? This isn’t going to change anything!”
“And now?”
This is what we need. Not just stopping things, Not just less of things. People need something positive to work for. They need a vision of something that ... I don’t know. Something that…”
“I think what you’re groping for is that people need more than to be scolded, more than to be made to feel stupid and guilty. They need more than a vision of doom. They need a vision of the world and of themselves that inspires them.”

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Ishmael
Page Number: 243-244
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Ishmael and the Narrator lay out their vision for the future of the human race. At the same time, they're basically summarizing the structure of Ishmael itself. The novel began with, one could say, Ishmael scolding humanity for its problems—its greed, its cynicism, its reliance on drugs and other substances. Over the course of the book, however, the Narrator has learned how to study mankind's fundamental problems. But much more importantly, he's learned a true alternative to civilization: the way of the Leavers. Instead of selfishly claiming that mankind will dominate the planet, the Leavers accept that they're only one of millions of animals on Earth, and try to live in harmony with their surroundings.

The way of the Leavers, as described by Ishmael and the Narrator, reminds us that the Narrator (like human beings in general) needs a story to live his life to the fullest. The book Ishmael, which is now almost at its end, is precisely the "vision" of the future that Ishmael and the Narrator are discussing. By writing his novel, Quinn hopes to inspire millions of people to leave Taker society behind and live honestly and simply, without any delusions of superiority.

I shook my head. “I’m afraid it’s a cause to which almost all of humanity will subscribe. White or colored, male or female, what the people of this culture want is to have as much wealth and power in the Taker prison as they can get. They don’t give a damn that it’s a prison and they don’t give a damn that it’s destroying the world.”
Ishmael shrugged. “As always, you’re a pessimist. Perhaps you’re right. I hope you’re wrong.”
”I hope so too, believe me.”

Related Characters: Ishmael (speaker), Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:

Ishmael and the Narrator discuss the future of radicalism in human civilization. The Narrator's conclusions are heavily pessimistic. He believes that there will always be people who want to make the world a better place—and yet these people, in spite of their good intentions, aren't really getting to the "root cause" of society's problems. The Narrator's remarks tie in with his thoughts about the failures of radicalism in the 1960s.

As the Narrator sees it, political revolutionaries like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Harvey Milk, Gloria Steinem, etc., wanted to give a certain group of people (African Americans, homosexuals, women) the same rights and luxuries as everyone else, without ever questioning whether these rights and luxuries were good in themselves. The rights to own property, to have enough food to last a lifetime, etc., might seem like good things, but as Ishmael has shown, they also reflect the Takers' arrogance and hypocrisy. In short, the Narrator believes that so-called radicals demand a fair "piece of the pie" but don't question whether pie is really worth eating.

Chapter 13 Quotes


Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Ishmael
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

After Ishmael's tragic death, The Narrator sorts through Ishmael's possessions and posters, and comes across a poster featuring yet another cryptic question: "with gorilla gone, will there be hope for man?" In order to understand this question fully, it's important to compare it with the question posed earlier in the novel: "with man gone, will there be hope for gorilla?" As with that earlier question, it's best to interpret the quote in multiple ways, recognizing that no one interpretation is the whole story:

1) By itself, the question is incomplete: we should combine it with the previous question ("With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla?"). Combining the two questions reminds us that neither man nor gorilla is the "whole story" in such an interconnected world—only by working together (just as Ishmael and the Narrator worked together) can both survive.

2) Literally, the quote reminds us of the novel's plot. The gorilla, Ishmael, is gone. The question then becomes, what will the Narrator do with the wisdom Ishmael has passed on to him? It's strongly suggested that the Narrator intends to share his new wisdom with other people. Indeed, it's implied that the Narrator converts Ishmael's wisdom into a best-selling book: the book we've just finished reading. In this way, the Narrator aims to achieve Ishmael's goal, convincing the Takers to abandon their destructive culture and live a healthier, more honest life.

3) On a more historical level, the question wonders what will happen to the human race when all other animals, gorillas included, go extinct. Throughout the novel, Ishmael has shown how Takers eliminate all rivals to their food supply—in other words, wipe out entire species—because they think that doing so will ensure them permanent control of the planet. The tragedy, Ishmael argues, is that by eliminating other forms of life, humans are also ensuring their own destruction. Human beings should be living in harmony with nature—in other words, they should be living like gorillas. When gorillas inevitably go extinct, humans will have no "model" for how else they might survive. With no Leavers left to emulate, the Takers' victory—and ultimate collapse—will be inevitable.

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