Ishmael by Daniel Quinn: Summary

Topic: Ishmael wants to claim that “The Takers are a profoundly lonely people. The world for them is enemy territory, and they live in it everywhere like an army of occupation, alienated and isolated by their extraordinary specialness.” (p. 146) In the same section (p. 148) he claims that “The story the Takers have been enacting here for the past ten thousand years is not only disastrous for mankind and for the world, but it’s also fundamentally unhealthy and unsatisfying. It’s a megalomaniac’s fantasy, and enacting it has given the Takers a culture riddled with greed, cruelty, mental illness, crime, addiction.”

The story of Ishmael brings us to the rational description of a man making choices; a man of reason and acts as the trailblazer of his destiny; and, a zealous director of his journey. By this concept, man is conceived as a being condemned to be free.
He takes upon the responsibility of defining his meaning and his relation to nature. For isn’t that God provided man the capacity to think and enjoy his free will; to take the formidable chances there is in life and find his locus of being as a man who belongs to the world? This is because man is not simply born to be nurtured, be developed or metamorphosed into a person that assumes the cudgels of life but he also act to redefine his environment to make it fit him.
The taker must be a man who assumes the accountability of considering his dependency to nature as his source of life; his relation to the community as he socially interacts; his responsibility to build a humane world for his children’s security and peace; his role of keeping his family warm and safe; and, to take part in shaping the culture and values of his government to keep the rule of law tame those who seek to destroy society.

Man indeed is a lonely creature. Condemned to determine his potentials and the possibilities. He is the person who struggles daily to reach his dreams; to wallow the gnawing pain at the realities surrounding him; and, to change the phenomenon of disgusting bloody war to remake the reality where his dreams can be made real. But yes, down in the ghettos where surviving is the game, man has to fight against the structural violence that engulfed the system which unfortunately seeks to destroy those who wanted to clean the social structures made as a dungeon of corrupt and greedy others.

It’s cruel down there. It’s sad and quite forlorn. He competes and he unendingly asks questions. Must he adapt to this crazy system in a limited purpose to survive or take the radical option to transform the world to arrest the system that chokes his throat to silence and unease?

Choices, unending choices. It’s a sickening dichotomy of life that man needs to live for. His existence is complexly insufficient to know which choice to go and what causality of action to pursue; and, what motivation could be a spark for inspiration. That brings him to an existential dilemma: is he free or determined? Is he rational or he is just part of nature? Must be changed to adapt or to revile a natural order? Must he be pro-active to rule the world or resign in complacency in self-absorption that he is nothing but a helpless cog of the universe that has a rule of its own?
No, the takers are not the greedy, bastard, criminal and dope persons resigned as a misfit of his own dreams and aspirations. The takers are those who seek reason above all else and compel those surrounding them to confront all phenomena that limit his being. He is the best and unending potential and values that seek to create; not to destroy.

He is not Heidegger’s nothingness. He is not the nauseated person defined by Marx as an alienated person in the midst of a civilization of labor. He is an ever interacting person that forever engaged in a desire to deepen the meaning of life; an evergreen fountain of arts in a sustained act of exchanging values with others; and, bearer of responsibility as a steward of nature.
A taker is a responsible man which is an embodiment of systems and beliefs that is shaping the community into organizations. He is moving them; recreating but at the same time working to preserve the world to ensure that the nest generation can still breathe clean air, see colorful flowers, enjoy the waterfalls, touch the trees, and run across the verdant field to meet the wind blows or be tan by the sun. The takers are intrinsic being and imbued with an ethos to know the extent of needed freedom but also the responsibility of being free.
The taker is the man of possibilities. He is a facticity of potentials. He is not dislocated from his sense of being, of his sense of purpose, and of his own consciousness. He inhales his own instinct, his psychic force, his consciousness, and his choices. The taker is his consciousness. He knows his options. He will always demand to be free.



Quinn, Daniel (1991). Ishmael: An Adventure of Mind and Spirit. Bantam Books, New York. pp. 1-169.

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