by Sir Walter Scott
Ivanhoe Foreignness and 'The Other' Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
It's not just Isaac's religion that makes him different from the Normans and the Saxons in Ivanhoe; his entire worldview is different. Unlike the knights watching the action, Isaac is not at all interested in chivalry (the European courtly code of knighthood). All he cares about is how much armor and gold Ivanhoe wins in his duels. No wonder it's difficult for Isaac and the other characters to understand each other: they value completely different things. This scene also makes use of the traditional offensive stereotype that Jews are money-grubbing. For more on our thoughts about Scott's characterization of Jewish people, see our "Character Analysis" of Isaac. (By the way, Isaac makes tons of references to the Hebrew Bible every time he speaks. Check out our section on "Allusions: Biblical, Legendary, and Mythological References" if any of these are unfamiliar.)
"Think not thus of it, my father," said Rebecca; "we also have advantages. These Gentiles, cruel and oppressive as they are, are in some sort dependent on the dispersed children of Zion, whom they despise and persecute. Without the aid of our wealth they could neither furnish forth their hosts in war nor their triumphs in peace; and the gold which we lend them returns with increase to our coffers. We are like the herb which flourisheth most when it is most trampled on. Even this day's pageant had not proceeded without the consent of the despised Jew, who furnished the means." (10.33)
Rebecca is talking here about a problematic kind of power. Yes, the Gentiles (meaning anyone not Jewish) may be horribly oppressive, but they also depend on the Jews to finance their tournaments and wars. Despite the terrible treatment they face, Rebecca perceives that the Jews in the book at least have some power, since the kings and nobles of Europe need them. Not that this makes the hatred and prejudice any better.
Athelstane coloured deeply, for such had been his own fate [to lose his shield] on the last day of the tournament; while Rowena, who was pleased in the same proportion, as if to make amends for the brutal jest of her unfeeling suitor, requested Rebecca to ride by her side.
"It were not fit I should do so," answered Rebecca, with proud humility, "where my society might be held a disgrace to my protectress." (19.11-12)
Scott often describes Rebecca as "humble." She is all too aware of the prejudice her people face, but instead of getting angry about it (like we might), she does her best to make peace with even the rudest and most violent of the Gentiles. Here Rebecca refuses to ride next to Rowena because people might find it disgraceful. What do you think of Rebecca's approach to injustice? Is "proud humility" a good political choice for oppressed people? How might we compare Rebecca's fictional response to medieval anti-Semitism to some real-life approaches to racism and prejudice?