What is Ishmael referring to when he states "how things came to be this way"?

Ishmael is referring to the key role that culture plays in creating a dominant story when he states “how things came to be this way.”

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 4 of Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael, the eponymous gorilla remarks upon “how things came to be this way.” He’s referring to culture and how the varied elements of culture create an explanation for why life, society, and the world are the way that they are.

According to Ishmael, the explanation is not explicit. No one sits someone else down and tells them upfront, “Here is how things came to be this way.” What happens is that a person figures out why things are the way that they are via an assemblage of sources.

Ishmael describes the myriad sources as a “mosaic.” A person forms a mosaic from their parents, teachers, movies, TV shows, religion, the news media, and so on. From these disparate components, a person receives information, which they then piece together to make their mosaic.

As it’s hard to fully isolate oneself from other people, media, and so on, Ishmael refers to the manifold parts of culture as “ambient.” In other words, they are always—in some way, at some level—telling a person information. They’re constantly communicating why the world is the way that it is.

What Ishmael plans to do with his human interlocutor is take the mosaic apart. Ishmael is not content with the explanation provided by the cultural mosaic. He thinks it’s time for a fresh perspective about what’s happened and how things have come to be this way.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial