Ishmael

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Alcohol and Painkillers Symbol Analysis

Alcohol and Painkillers Symbol Icon
At several points in Ishmael, Ishmael points out that Taker culture is self-contradictory and self-annihilating. One consequence of this is that Takers feel the need to forget about their contradictions. One strategy that Takers use to forget is to escape into drugs and intoxication. We see evidence of this first-hand in Ishmael: when the narrator is overcome by the complexity of his lessons with Ishmael, he often turns to bourbon or other alcoholic beverages for relaxation. (He even turns to painkillers after getting a tooth removed.) Alcohol and painkillers symbolize the hedonism and sensuality to which Takers—indeed, most humans—turn in the vain hope of fighting their depression and anxiety.

Alcohol and Painkillers Quotes in Ishmael

The Ishmael quotes below all refer to the symbol of Alcohol and Painkillers. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Education, Teaching, and Prophets Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Bantam edition of Ishmael published in 1995.
Chapter 7 Quotes

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.

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Alcohol and Painkillers Symbol Timeline in Ishmael

The timeline below shows where the symbol Alcohol and Painkillers appears in Ishmael. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Education, Teaching, and Prophets Theme Icon
Fiction, Storytelling, and Truth Theme Icon
Cynicism, Misanthropy, and the Failure of the 1960s Theme Icon
Imprisonment Theme Icon
...there is no way to fight these flaws. As a result, people turn to crime, drugs, and many other things to fight their depression about this mythology. Ishmael suggests that there... (full context)
Chapter 7
Education, Teaching, and Prophets Theme Icon
Fiction, Storytelling, and Truth Theme Icon
Cynicism, Misanthropy, and the Failure of the 1960s Theme Icon
Humans, the Environment, and Extinction Theme Icon
...so distressed by what he’s learned about humanity that he decides to go have a drink. As he drinks, he thinks that Ishmael’s latest assignment seems impossible, or at least tremendously... (full context)
Chapter 10
Interconnectedness Theme Icon
Cynicism, Misanthropy, and the Failure of the 1960s Theme Icon
...goes to a dentist, and ends up having one his molars removed. The dentist prescribes painkillers, which the narrator consumes along with bourbon. As a result of his dentist appointment, the... (full context)
Interconnectedness Theme Icon
Cynicism, Misanthropy, and the Failure of the 1960s Theme Icon
Imprisonment Theme Icon
The narrator has dinner and a drink at a nearby restaurant. He returns to the carnival around 9 pm. He bribes a... (full context)