This page contains assignments and other materials related to our study of Daniel Quinn's novel Ishmael.

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[ Need-to-knows ]

  • What is Ishmael's opinion of Mother Culture?
  • Why do we need to know about Mother Culture?
  • What is the Taker Thunderbolt?
  • Was it important that Walter Sokolow was Jewish? -- Yes. This gives Ishmael a connection to WWII and the Nazis, which influences his view on captivity.
  • Where is this story going? Where is Mr. Smith going with it?
  • What is the definition of Mother Culture?
  • How are we being lied to?
  • What is the narrator's background?
    • In his forties
    • Was part of the hippie movement
    • ...but is this really important?
  • What is the author's purpose? What is his argument? What are his opinions? His intent? His inspiration?
  • How are Takers and Leavers related?
  • What does the narrator hope to learn from Ishmael?
  • How will one gorilla and one man save the world? (Does it need saving? Can it be saved?)
  • Why a gorilla?
    • Closest to humans -- evolutionary connection
    • Intelligence
    • Perspective
    • More impressive due to size
    • Being in a zoo = captivity
    • Not too cute or too scary
  • What does Ishmael dislike about humans?
  • Why no other people?
  • How does Ishmael know that the narrator is the right student?
  • How old is Ishmael?
  • Why is it taking longer for the narrator to understand?
  • What are Ishmael's religious beliefs?
  • How did Daniel Quinn think of the ideas for this book?
  • Will man control the world?
  • Why is Ishmael teaching?
  • How far is the narrator into this class?
  • Will the narrator finish? Will the truth come out?
  • What is the definition of culture?
  • Who are Ishmael's past students?
  • Is it possible this book is set in a world like The Matrix?
  • What (if anything) is wrong with humans?
  • Why did the narrator get so mad at the ad in the paper?
  • Why is the narrator interested in saving the world?
  • What is the relationship between Mother Culture and government?

[ Big Ideas ]

  • Man was made to control the earth (or so we think)
  • Takers exclude themselves from the peace-keeping law
  • We (humans) are not the only beings on earth
  • Our culture is controlled by stories
  • Something is wrong with humans
  • Mother Culture controls everything in our society
  • Captivity
  • Our "leave it for the next person" mentality is hurting the world
  • Humans are going to mess up and ultimately destroy the world
  • Agriculture
  • What Mother Culture is and what she teaches us
  • "How things came to be this way"
  • We are all in captivity, but we may not know it
  • There's more than one right way to live
  • Reasons for the world's demise -- it's mankind's fault
  • We are hurting our environment through our laziness
  • Takers and Leavers
  • A's, B's, and C's
  • Difference between civilized and primitive
  • Food chain (and natural laws) and how Takers have broken them
  • Peace-keeping law
  • Saving the world
  • Don't take life for granted

[ Supplemental Readings ]

[ Projects and Assignments ]

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