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The titular character, an old, experienced, and intelligent gorilla who teaches the narrator about civilization, the environment, and history. Ishmael is a mysterious presence in the novel, whose motive for spending time with human beings… (read full character analysis)


The narrator of Ishmael is a middle-aged, deeply cynical man. Though he came of age during the 1960s, a time when millions of people fought to change the world, he’s largely given up on the… (read full character analysis)

Walter Sokolow

A Jewish man who travels to the United States in the 1930s, loses his entire family to the Holocaust, and purchases Ishmael to serve as a strange, surrogate family. Mr. Sokolow is the first to… (read full character analysis)

Grace Sokolow

The wife of Mr. Sokolow, at least twenty years his junior, Grace Sokolow is a jealous, narrow-minded woman who’s never told that Ishmael and Mr. Sokolow are good friends, and capable of communicating with… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Rachel Sokolow
The daughter of Mr. Sokolow and the first pupil of Ishmael, Rachel becomes very fond of Ishmael, but fails to grasp his lessons and become fully enlightened about Takers and Leavers.
Mr. Partridge
A butler who works at the Sokolow estate even after Mr. Sokolow dies, Mr. Partridge seems not to understand that Ishmael is vastly intelligent and capable of human communication. Nevertheless, at the end of the novel, it’s implied that Mr. Partridge is, in fact, aware of this.
Art Owens
The organizer of the carnival where Ishmael and the narrator conduct their lessons in the second half of the book. The narrator says that he likes Owens, and respects his intelligence and brisk manner.
The bribee
The carnival worker whom the narrator bribes so he can visit Ishmael after hours