by Sir Walter Scott
Ivanhoe Theme of Society and Class
We've gone on and on about the cultural conflicts in Ivanhoe. No one seems to get along, from the Saxons and the Normans to the Christians and the Jews. But let's not forget that even within these groups there are a lot of class problems. Cedric literally owns Gurth, who wears an iron collar around his neck as a symbol of his servitude. And one reason that De Bracy wants to marry Rowena is so he can control her lands and become rich and powerful himself. Clearly money and power are major issues for these characters, above and beyond their ethnic and cultural identities.
Questions About Society and Class
- In Gurth's "Character Analysis" we talked about Saxon class issues. For instance, Cedric feels oppressed by the Normans, but he also owns slaves. Do we ever see the same kind of class structure among the Normans? Does Norman society have the same hierarchies the Saxons have?
- Where do Rebecca and Isaac fit into the English class structure? How does their social position reflect the prejudices and biases of the 1190s?
- How does outlaw society compare to legitimate society in Ivanhoe? How do the outlaws organize themselves socially? Who or what keeps order among the outlaws?
Chew on This
By giving the outlaws their own version of a king (Robin Hood) to keep order, Ivanhoe suggests that every human society has a hierarchy – even a society made up of thieves and robbers.
By presenting positive exchanges between ordinary, working-class Normans such as Hubert and Baldwin de Oyley and their Saxon counterparts, Ivanhoe emphasizes that the ethnic struggles in the book are not the fault of the Normans as a group. Scott singles out the Norman lords as worthy of critique, thus combining cultural and class criticism in the novel.