Free Study Guide - Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott|
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FREE ONLINE STUDY NOTES - IVANHOE BY SIR WALTER SCOTT
The narrative line of the plot moves slowly and smoothly through the
rising action to the conclusion, except for some infrequent occasions
when Scott uses flashbacks to explain his plot, to link up characters,
or to supply missing information. There are also a few moments of authorial
intrusion into the plot line, when Scott enters the novel to directly
give additional information, especially related to medieval history or
customs. Neither the intrusions or the flashbacks detract significantly
from the well developed and unified plot he has created in Ivanhoe.
All the characters in Ivanhoe are in some way affected by the themes of conquest and dispossession. The smoldering hatred between the conquered Saxons and the conquering Normans is the major theme that runs throughout the novel. Scott masterfully develops the unscrupulous leadership of Prince John and shows its affect on the common people of England. The prince has stolen the land of the Saxons, taken their money, and usurped all of their power. He also allows his knights to behave in immoral ways and to take any women they so desire. Even though King Richard is kinder and more popular than Prince John, some of the Saxons even resent him. Cedric, in particular, hates all Normans.
There are several smaller examples of conquest and disposition in the
novel. Prince John has stolen power from his brother, King Richard. The
king himself is displaced, being held captive in a foreign land. Ivanhoe
has been disinherited by his father because of his love for Rowena and
his allegiance to King Richard. Robin Hood has lost his earldom of Locksley.
Isaac, as a Jew, is permanently displaced and persecuted. De Bracy tries
to conquer Rowena, Bois-Guilbert tries to conquer Rebecca, and the Prior
and Isaac are conquered and ransomed. Rebecca is conquered because of
her Jewishness and accused of being a witch; to save her, Ivanhoe finally
conquers Bois-Guilbert. In the end, all of the conquests and dispositions
are favorably resolved.
Civil unrest is a minor, but recurrent, theme in the novel. The Saxons are discontented because they have lost their lands and their power to the Normans. Additionally, they would like to again have a Saxon King on the English throne. They also resent the contempt and mockery of the Normans, who pride themselves as a superior race. The common people are frightened of Norman cruelty and injustice. The frustration and tension in the novel is constantly suggestive of civil unrest.
Honor among thieves and the profession of outlawry is another recurring theme of the novel. The general discontent of the common Saxon people and the strict embargoes placed on them by their conquerors naturally leads to increased crime. But in Scott’s chivalric novel, the criminals are heroes of their own sort; they are actually Robin Hood and his legendary band of outlaws, who rob from the rich to give to the poor. These “outlaws” have more honor and chivalry than many of the Norman knights.
The cruelty of anti-Semitism is another theme of the novel. In the Middle
Ages, there were widespread discrimination and persecution of the Jews.
They were not allowed to own land or to become craftsmen. As a result,
Jews engaged in trade and money-lending, often becoming rich through their
natural aptitude for commerce. The Christians were jealous of their successes,
but depended upon the Jews for loans. As such, they were regarded as a
necessary abhorrence and were hated and treated cruelly by the very people
whom they helped. The Jews were especially susceptible to accusations
of witchcraft, chiefly because they had learned the art of healing. Rebecca,
who cures Ivanhoe of his wounds, is suspected of being a witch both because
of her knowledge of medicine and because of her unusual beauty which attracts
many men. Because she is a Jew, her case is more serious. Everyone expects
Rebecca to be burned at the stake.
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. 09 May 2017