Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 12-13-2014

Journal / Book Title

ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment


The novel Ishmael, a late twentieth-century text, demonstrates how fiction can provide philosophical, political, and moral commentary on humanity's interaction with the environment. Daniel Quinn's 1992 novel offers an example of discourse on environmental ethics and its utility as a way of engaging college students in the study of environmental issues. Ishmael reflected and proposed to address some of the fears of environmental degradation and was the recipient of the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship, which was a one-time award providing a $500,000 prize (McDowell).1Ishmael was generally favorably reviewed in major print media, including The New York Times and Los Angeles Times (Clute; Miles 9). I have used this novel in a college capstone course, which utilizes an interdisciplinary approach to researching and writing about contemporary legal issues, including environmental issues. Quinn's novel will be analyzed from the perspective of its utility as an environmental studies text in an interdisciplinary research course. Ishmael is an interdisciplinary approach in fictive form to the problem of food security2 and reflects the state of knowledge in environmental studies of the 1990s. Ishmael is valuable because of its interdisciplinary nature, use of the Socratic method, and, most importantly, its radical thesis and mode of didacticism. This essay will assess each of these characteristics and summarize the value of Ishmael as a text for college-level courses in environmental studies.


Published Citation

Ian J. Drake, What the Gorilla Saw: Environmental Studies and the Novel Ishmael, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Volume 22, Issue 3, Summer 2015, Pages 568–581,