Notes on Ivanhoe Themes

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Ivanhoe Topic Tracking: Prejudice

Chapter 1

Prejudice 1: After the Normans conquered the Saxons, the Saxons were forced to live under many oppressive rules. The elevation of the Norman language served to cut the Saxons off from the court and the courts of law. The Saxons were branded as unintelligent speakers of a "lesser" language:

"In short, French was the language of honour, chivalry, and even of justice, while the far more manly and expressive Anglo-Saxon was abandoned to the use of rustics and hinds, who knew no other." Chapter 1, pg. 3 The hatred between the two groups runs deep. The Normans like to make fun of the Saxon's customs and dress, and the Saxons deeply resent the changes the Normans have brought to their homeland.

One such change is the introduction of forest laws, which Gurth rails against. His dog Fangs limps from recently having his claws and part of his paws cut off, to keep him from hunting. The Normans imposed strict rules on who may hunt, and the Saxon dogs were subject to this disabling practice.

Chapter 2

Prejudice 2: When Gurth and Wamba are late returning home, Cedric immediately jumps to the conclusion that Normans must have kidnapped them. Gurth is a swineherd, and in charge of a large herd of Cedric's animals. Since the Normans have taken so much from him already, it is easy for him to believe that they stole his pigs, his jester, and his swineherd too. Of course they didn't; Wamba and Gurth are just late. Unfortunately, Cedric is not totally wrong in his prejudice. One reason why his servants are late is because of Fangs, lamed by the Normans.

Chapter 5

Prejudice 3: Cedric believes in all the prejudices about Jews--they are weak, cowards, and usurers. But he at least allows Isaac to enter his house, and eat with them (though far removed.) The Prior and the Templar are horrified that a Jew will be in their midst. When he enters, Isaac is stooped from all the groveling his hated status forces him to do. No one will give him a seat at the table, except for the Pilgrim. And certainly no one will talk to the Jew. Bois-Guilbert insults him as he leaves the room.

Chapter 6

Prejudice 4: During this period of time, no group was greater persecuted than the Jews:

"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 each 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." Chapter 5, pg. 52

The monarchy and nobles often resorted to torture to force Jews to pay out money. But unable to own land, money-lending was the only profession open to their people, and the Jews flourished at it, despite the setbacks. For this they were despised.

Chapter 7

Prejudice 5: Isaac tries to disrupt the social and religious hierarchy in his attempt to find a good seat for himself and his daughter. Hating the Saxons, Prince John demands Cedric's clan make way for the Jews. Before a full-fledged fight breaks out, Wamba steps in. He flashes pork in the Jew's face, and Isaac falls. Humiliated by a jester, he and his daughter are forced to take lesser seats.

Chapter 10

Prejudice 6: Isaac and Rebecca have different attitudes toward their harsh situations. Isaac fits the Jewish stereotype in that he does not like to part with his money. Therefore, he is very agitated when people like Prince John force him to lend money to them. The prejudice of others has hardened him, though he is still full of love for his daughter. She has a different perspective, and can see how dependent the Gentiles are upon the Jews. Without them, money would dry up and the economy would stumble. She takes comfort in the Jews' purpose and usefulness in the world.

Chapter 14

Prejudice 7: Prince John is treacherous and cowardly, likely to make a poor ruler. One of the few examples of his authority was a disastrous trip to Ireland. His father sent him to form alliances and ensure peace with these new English subjects. But instead John laughed at the customs of the Irish leaders, and pulled their beards! Such disrespectful behavior ruined relations between the two peoples for generations.

Chapter 22

Prejudice 8: Of all the prisoners at Front-de-Boeuf's castle, the only one threatened with torture is Isaac, the Jew. Front-de-Boeuf demands money from Isaac, insulting him and telling him he will be tortured unless he gives in. The Jews' profession does make them needed, as Rebecca suggested, but it also makes them very vulnerable to attack and intimidation. In fact, Front-de-Bouef contends that a Jew is easiest to punish and torture, because his life is worth nothing.

Chapter 23

Prejudice 9: When De Bracy accosts Lady Rowena with his feelings for her, he also insults her people. She is a lowly Saxon, so he believes she should immediately defer to the wishes of a Norman. He cannot understand why she would not want to marry one, for how else could she achieve wealth, honor and power? He imagines her home to be like a country farm, which anyone would yearn to leave. It does not even cross his mind that her Saxon heritage, her family, and her honor might be important to her. Also, he assumes that being Norman is the only road to prosperity and respect. Saxons, to him, are merely lower-class citizens.

Chapter 28

Prejudice 10: A flashback of the events directly following the tournament reveals that even the good Knight Ivanhoe is prejudiced against the Jews. When he first sees his kind nurse Rebecca, he looks upon her with affection and admiration. But after she tells him she is Jewish, such feelings evaporate. He is cold and courteous. Rebecca, on the other hand, treats him no differently once his distaste for her people is made obvious.

When Ivanhoe suggests ways he can repay her for her generosity, Rebecca suggests he try to believe that a Jew may do something for a Gentile and want nothing in return, save God's blessing. This is how Rebecca lives, and she wishes for Ivanhoe to open his eyes to the goodness of her people.

Chapter 29

Prejudice 11: When Rebecca questions what could make men fight so, spilling the blood of others, Ivanhoe tells her that she is a Jew, and therefore cannot understand. He insists that only Christians can attain the high feelings that make up chivalry. This argument of Ivanhoe's is reminiscent of the Norman-Saxon conflict. Each side believes the other incapable of feeling certain emotions or embracing certain values. The Normans think the Saxons are dumb, unchivalric, and old-fashioned, while the Saxons think the Normans are cruel and have no sense of history.

Chapter 33

Prejudice 12: The Prior insults Isaac, and sets his ransom very high, assuming that all Jews have ample money. This assumption causes him to treat Isaac more harshly.

Chapter 36


Prejudice 13: Rebecca's fate is especially sealed because she is Jewish. The Grand Master feels that her death will be an offering, to atone for the recent sins of the order of Templars. Her religion is also used as proof against her, further condemning her as a sorceress.

Chapter 37

Prejudice 14: During her trial, most of the "proof" against Rebecca has to do with her religion. Her language, her alphabet, her clothing, and her ability to heal are all entered as proof. Unfortunately for her, all but the latter are prejudices. There is little Rebecca can do to defend herself against such charges.

Chapter 39

Prejudice 15: Bois-Guilbert wishes that Rebecca were Christian, so that they could be together. This angers Rebecca, for she tells Bois-Guilbert that it is he and his people who have made hers so hated. The Jewish people are not mean and terrible; rather Christians like the Templars have portrayed them to be.

Chapter 42

Prejudice 16: Even in the presence of King Richard, Cedric will not bow or break his vow. To him, a Norman is a Norman, despite how good a man he may be. Cedric's prejudices against the Normans are strong.

Chapter 44

Prejudice 17: With King Richard back in power, the Saxons are given fairer treatment. Oppressive laws are lessened, and the generations of tensions between the two groups begin to erode. The wedding of Ivanhoe and Rowena further strengthens these bonds. Ivanhoe, though Saxon born, has strong ties to the Norman King Richard. Both Normans and Saxons attend the wedding, and in the years to come the two groups become entwined in terms of language and culture. The two groups get to know each other, and prejudices and hard feelings disappear.

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