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MonkeyNotes-Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
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THEMES

Major Theme

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.


Minor Themes

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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