by Sir Walter Scott
Ivanhoe Theme of Identity
One big question kept popping into our heads as we were reading Ivanhoe: what's with all the disguises? You've got Ivanhoe dressed as the Disinherited Knight; King Richard I as "the Black Sluggard"; Robin Hood as, well, all kinds of people; De Bracy as a forest outlaw – heck, Cedric and Wamba even share a monk costume. That's a lot of disguises for one fairly straightforward plot.
Obviously these disguises raise the suspense of the book. Even if we suspect pretty early on that the Black Knight is King Richard, it's still exciting to see that moment of revelation when De Bracy recognizes the leader he has betrayed after the battle at Torquilstone.
Yet there are so many disguises in this book that at some point it stops being a surprise when someone throws off his hood or hat and says, here I am! We get used to the idea that nobody is what he seems in this novel. And that seems to be why disguise is important to Ivanhoe.
After all, this book is deeply concerned with identity – national, cultural, religious, honor, family, all of that important stuff. However, if identity is something you can hide or change just by putting on new clothes or a hat, how important is it really? What does identity even mean in Ivanhoe? Who seems to have the strongest sense of identity in the book, and how does this character show it?
Questions About Identity
- How does Ivanhoe represent religious and national identity differently? Do they overlap at all in the novel?
- How do gender roles function in Ivanhoe? Are there characters who bend some of the rules of gender in the novel? If so, how or why?
- Are cultural and national identities the same thing in Ivanhoe? How much do the two overlap?
- Why do you think that so many characters are in disguise in this novel? Aside from being a fun plot element, what purpose do the disguises serve?
Chew on This
Cedric thinks of the Saxons as the rulers of the English nation, while Ivanhoe believes being Saxon is just one part of a larger English identity.
Not only is Rebecca a cultural and religious outsider in the world of Ivanhoe, but her manner and professional training both break the strongly defined gender roles in place in the novel.