by Sir Walter Scott
Ivanhoe Foreignness and 'The Other' Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
The reception of this person [Isaac] in the hall of Cedric the Saxon was such as might have satisfied the most prejudiced enemy of the tribes of Israel. Cedric himself coldly nodded in answer to the Jew's repeated salutations, and signed to him to take place at the lower end of the table, where, however, no one offered to make room for him. On the contrary, as he passed along the file, casting a timid, supplicating glance, and turning towards each of those who occupied the lower end of the board, the Saxon domestics squared their shoulders and continued to devour their supper with great perseverance, paying not the least attention to the wants of new guest. The attendants of the Abbot crossed themselves, with looks of pious horror, and the very heathen Saracens, as Isaac drew near them, curled up their whiskers with indignation, and laid their hands on their poniards, as if ready to rid themselves by the most desperate means from the apprehended contamination of his nearer approach. (5.14)
Several groups hate each other in Ivanhoe. There are the Saxons and the Normans, of course. Most of the characters have been to the Crusades – medieval holy wars between Christians and Muslims. There are also class differences between the nobility (like Cedric) and their slaves (like Wamba and Gurth). However, all these groups are united by one thing in this scene: their hatred for Isaac of York. Everybody avoids him: the Saxon nobility and the commoners, the Norman monks, even the Arab ("Saracen") slaves traveling with Bois-Guilbert. Scott uses this scene at Rotherwood, with its cross-section of people, to illustrate his claim that the most oppressed people in Europe during the Middle Ages were the Jews. Isaac is the target of a horrific amount of hatred, and this scene emphasizes the prejudice he faces from every group in Ivanhoe.
[Isaac's] doubts might have been indeed pardoned; for, except perhaps the flying fish, there was no race existing on the earth, in the air, or the waters, who were the object of such an unintermitting, general, and relentless persecution as the Jews of this period. Upon the slightest and most unreasonable pretenses, as well as upon accusations the most absurd and groundless, their persons and property were exposed to every turn of popular fury; for Norman, Saxon, Dane, and Briton, however adverse these races were to teach other, contended which should look with greatest detestation upon a people whom it was accounted a point of religion to hate, to revile, to despise, to plunder, and to persecute. [...]
The obstinacy and avarice of the Jews being thus in a measure placed in opposition to the fanaticism and tyranny of those under whom they lived, seemed to increase in proportion to the persecution with which they were visited; and the immense wealth they usually acquired in commerce, while it frequently placed them in danger, was at other times used to extend their influence, and to secure to them a certain degree of protection. On these terms they lived; and their character, yet obstinate, uncomplying, and skilful in evading the dangers to which they were exposed. (6.63-64)
Ivanhoe's depiction of its Jewish characters is highly problematic. On the one hand, Scott seems sympathetic to the constant, horrible prejudice that Jewish people suffered in medieval Europe. He also explicitly states that both Normans and Saxons took advantage of religious hatred to rob the Jews shamelessly. Scott clearly doesn’t support the anti-Semitism that many of his characters in this novel express.
At the same time… what's going on with that second paragraph? Scott says this constant prejudice and abuse made the Jews as a people greedy, paranoid, and stubborn. That's a pretty big generalization, don’t you think? All Jews are this way? So Scott condemns prejudice against the Jews, but he also repeats some terrible Jewish stereotypes in his characterization of Isaac and of Jewish people in general. For more on this contradiction, check out "Characters: Isaac of York."
Even Rebecca's clothing marks her as different from the people around her. Here she is richly clothed in "a sort of Eastern dress [...] of females of her nation." Note that it’s her nation, not the nation. In other words, even though she’s in England, she is still somehow not quite English like the others at the tournament. Rebecca's characterization is as positive as Isaac's is negative, but she is still excluded from most of the groups that we see represented in the novel – outlaw, Saxon, or Norman. How does Rebecca's isolation affect her as a character?