Racism in Ivanhoe
The Normans and the Saxons have expected racism throughout the novel but the ultimate racism is against the Jews. While both Normans and Saxons dislike each other with a somewhat good reason, both, however, are outrageously callous towards Isaac and Rebecca with no real reason. Though Isaac has his flaws, these flaws have no addition to the treatment he receives, shown through the initial introduction of Isaac upon asking for a place to stay to evade the storm. Further, Isaac will be treated with humiliation, both attempted and actual robbery, and brutal attacks all because of his race and religion. The Normans and Saxons do have a real feud with arguably great reason but the Jews have committed no such havoc. From the start of the novel, the reader is immediately engrossed into this feud and hear Gurth and Wamba speaking of their dislike for the Normans. This quarrel inspires Wamba to deliberately misdirect the Norman travelers and causes Gurth to even threaten them. “Gurth darted at him a savage and revengeful scowl, and with a fierce yet hesitating motion laid his hand on the haft of his knife” Thus showing the increasing hatred between the races. However, this hatred is expected and is not without cause and therefore it is not so much racism as it is a conflict for power. Normally the Saxons have power with King Richard in command but as he left the throne to Prince John, the Norman nobles have taken advantage of the lack of power. For the Normans and Saxons, it is a very civil feud where they still live among one another and though full of spite still can share a meal and go to events with some sense of peace.
The Jews in this story are not as lucky in their standings on such prejudices. As mentioned Isaac the main Jew in this story does have flaws but these flaws have no relation to their hatred of him. This is fully conveyed when Isaac first arrives at Cedric’s castle. While Sir Brian and Prior Aymer arrive at the castle and are taken in with much hospitality and only a few passive remarks, Isaac receives the opposite treatment. When the messenger declares to Cedric that there is a man seeking shelter; Cedric immediately grants his welcome but the messenger then feels the need to add that the man is a Jew. “It is a Jew, who calls himself Isaac of York; is it fit I should marshal him into the hall?” “Let Gurth do thine office, Oswald,” said Wamba with his usual effrontery: “the swineherd will be a fit usher for the Jew.” The fact that he is a Jew is all Cedric’s castle needs to make their full judgment of him. The Normans respond with an even graver amount of disdain saying: “’St. Mary,’ said the Abbot, crossing himself, ‘an unbelieving Jew, and admitted into this presence!’ ‘A dog Jew,’ echoed the Templar, ‘to approach a defender of the Holy Sepulchre?’” This immediate hatred towards the Jew without even meeting him shows that has no connection to Isaacs’s flawed personality.
The one mark on Cedric’s defense is he does allow Isaac into his hall anyways but this later is revealed to only be a mark against the Normans and not out of kindness. Cedric declares upon Brian and Aymers disapproval; ‘Peace, my worthy guest,’ said Cedric; ‘my hospitality must not be bounded by your dislikes. If Heaven bore with the whole nation of stiff-necked unbelievers for more years than a layman can number we may endure the presence of one Jew for a few hours. ’ While this sounds as if Cedric is being open-minded it is actually later shown that Cedric has similar disdain towards the Jews. Cedric was simply trying to claim dominance over his Norman visitors and actually could not care less about Isaacs’s well-being. Further, into the story at the tournament, Isaac goes with his daughter to sit with the high-class people and this brings about many objections from all around him including Cedric himself. “‘Let me see,’ said the Prince, ‘who dare stop him!’ fixing his eye on Cedric, whose attitude intimated his intention to hurl the Jew down headlong.” Therefore, Cedric like the rest of the Saxons maintain the same contempt for the Jews as any other.
Moreover, the prince himself, who is infamously known as wicked, offers the worst crime against the Jew as seen in the novel. In this scene in which Isaac poorly choose to try and be treated equal, Prince John performs a horrible humiliation towards the unsuspecting Jew. Prince John declares Isaac can sit on the higher level and upon Isaacs’s ascension, the Prince further asks Cedric or anyone to rid the high class of the Jew. Wamba arises to the task and beats the poor Isaac causing him to tumble down to the lowest level. But if this embarrassing crowd pleaser was not enough the Prince additionally has the audacity to request money from the injured man. Isaac in shame not only hesitantly obeys but in his obedience is robbed of his whole purse. This scene shows fully the lack of respect the Jews get and in the Norman and Saxons hatred towards Jews they even put aside their disputes to unite against the innocent, and mutually hated Jews. This crime in its fullness is the symbolic affirmation that the Normans and Saxons in this novel are infinitely more racist against an undeserving victim rather than the reasonable and instigated feud between themselves.
The only one throughout the novel in which takes pity on the Jew and somewhat treats Isaac with respect is the protagonist, Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe in his righteousness hears of a plot to rob Isaac of his possessions from Brian’s slaves. Immediately Ivanhoe, in disguise as a palmer, helps Isaac avoid this misconduct. ‘Leave this mansion instantly, while its inmates sleep sound after the last night’s revel. I will guide you by the secret paths of the forest, known as well to me as to any forester that ranges it, and I will not leave you till you are under safe conduct of some chief or baron going to the tournament, whose good-will you have probably the means of securing. ’ This is the first and one of the only means of kindness the Jew receives throughout the novel. While Isaac has been facing nothing but scrutiny and disdain simply because of his religion and race, this one gesture means that much more to the reader and to Isaac. The fact that they live in an extremely prejudice world, having Ivanhoe break these prejudices and help the Jew and breaking said racism shows Ivanhoe as so much more and provides a very admirable quality in his character that no reader could dislike.
Though the Normans and Saxons have an expected prejudice against one another with some semblance of reason to it, the utmost prejudice is against the undeserving Jews. This is shown by the Norman and Saxons constant bickering and general disdain but overall they do live among one another civilly enough. This is more than one could say about the Jews in this story, while the Normans and Saxons treat each other with somewhat respect, the Jews are constantly humiliated and treated absolutely horribly. Though some characters seem to at least look to the Jews as humans, like Cedric refusing to leave Isaac out in the storm, there is still arguably evidence that he too was simply doing so to provoke his Norman visitors. The real shame is when the prince himself, who is acting king at the time, gives Isaac the greatest humiliation of the novel and gives a solid proof that the Saxons and Normans are more racist towards the Jews. Among the novel the one person who stands against it is the protagonist, who shows one act of kindness for the Jew, making at least one civil character within the novel. Though there are much racism and prejudices throughout Ivanhoe, the ones who suffer the most from it are the guiltless Jews.
Scott, Walter. Ivanhoe Broadway, NY: Signet Classic, 1962.
Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe (Broadway, NY: Signet Classic, 1962), 44.
Scott, 97. Scott, 78-79.
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