Rocket Boys

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Mr. Isaac Bykovski Character Analysis

A friendly miner who assists Homer with building rockets at many points in Rocket Boys. Mr. Isaac Bykovski teaches Homer how to weld and design nozzles. Homer Sr. punishes him for encouraging Homer’s experiments by relegating him to an unpopular part of the coal mine, but Bykovski continues to give Homer useful advice. Ultimately, Bykovski dies in a mining accident—a tragedy for which Homer irrationally blames himself.

Mr. Isaac Bykovski Quotes in Rocket Boys

The Rocket Boys quotes below are all either spoken by Mr. Isaac Bykovski or refer to Mr. Isaac Bykovski . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dell edition of Rocket Boys published in 2000.
Chapter 7 Quotes

“You want to thank me.” He nodded toward the box. “Make these fly. Show your dad what you and I did together.”
My father had clearly, in no uncertain terms, told me to stop building rockets. The BCMA was now an outlaw organization. I don’t know why, but that felt good. I had the urge to hug Mr. Bykovski, but resisted it. Instead, I stood straight and tall, and said firmly, and what I hoped was manfully, “Yes, sir. You can count on me.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Mr. Isaac Bykovski (speaker), Homer Hickam Sr.
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Homer Jr. goes to many neighbors and friends for help as he designs his rockets, and one of the most important mentors he comes across is Isaac Bykovski. Isaac teaches Homer valuable information about rocket design, and acts as a supportive father figure in place of Homer Sr.'s criticism. But then Homer Sr. fires Isaac from his job in the metal shop—Homer Sr. doesn't want anyone helping his son building rockets. In this scene, Isaac tells Homer Jr. to keep building rockets anyway.

The scene is important partly because it shows Homer Jr. accumulating a "debt" to the people in his community. While it's true that Homer Jr. feels a strong ambition to build rockets and go to college, he's helped along this path by dozens of mentors and friends in the town of Coalwood. By the end of the book, Homer isn't just launching rockets for himself; he's launching rockets because he "owes" it to people like Isaac. Furthermore, the scene is important because it shows us how Homer Jr. becomes an adult in the process of designing rockets. Here, Homer comes to learn the concept of honor-he must honor Isaac's help and support by succeeding with his project. Rockets aren't a childish diversion for Homer; they teach him the importance of honor, as well as integrity, loyalty, and maturity.

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Chapter 12 Quotes

Machining and materials for gravel. Gravel, like all things in Coalwood, could be supplied by my father. After I completed my engineering drawing of the nozzle, there was nothing to do but to go up to the mine. Dad looked up from his desk when I entered his office. “I heard you’ve been talking to Ike Bykovski,” he said. “And now you’re visiting Leon Ferro. You get around, don’t you?”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Homer Hickam Sr. (speaker), Mr. Isaac Bykovski , Mr. Leon Ferro
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Homer Jr. is under strict instructions from his father, Homer Sr., not to build any more rockets. In part, Homer Sr. doesn't want his son building rockets because he thinks they're a danger to the mine: indeed, Homer's first rocket blows up, nearly hurting bystanders. Furthermore, Homer Sr. doesn't want Homer Jr. asking anyone in town—Ike and Leon included—about rocket design. In this quotation, Homer Sr. calls out his son for disobeying him on more than one occasion.

Homer Sr.'s gruffness in this scene might suggest that he doesn't want his son building rockets—in other words, just reiterating what he told his son earlier. But the very fact that Homer Sr. knows so much about Homer Jr.'s actions may suggest that he's keeping on eye on Homer Jr. for reasons other than criticizing or punishing him. As the book goes on, Hickam leads us to believe that Homer Sr. is grudgingly impressed with his son's intelligence and determination. So as intimidating as Homer Sr. might seem to be in this scene, there's also faint suggestion that he's secretly impressed with and supportive of his son.

Chapter 18 Quotes

“Ike built your rockets,” Doc said resolutely, “because he wanted the best for you, the same as if you were his own son. You and all the children in Coalwood belong to all the people. It’s an unwritten law, but that’s the way everybody feels.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), “Doc” Lassiter (speaker), Mr. Isaac Bykovski
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 248
Explanation and Analysis:

After Isaac helps Homer Jr. with his rockets, Homer Sr. sends him sent to the mines as punishment. During his time in the mines, Isaac dies in a tragic accident, and Homer blames himself for the death: if he hadn't asked about rockets, Isaac would never have been in the mine in the first place. In this scene, Doc Lassiter encourages Homer to continue with his experiments. Doc's main point is that in the tiny town of Coalwood, everyone helps everyone else out, family or not.

Doc's quote is an eloquent summary of small-town American life. In Coalwood, there's an "unwritten law" that compels people like Doc and Isaac help Homer pursue his dreams. (Of course, another reality of small-town life is that there are lots of people whom Homer can't avoid seeing almost every day, and who try to bully him into giving up his dream.) Dozens of people support Homer, lending him their time, money, and resources as if he were their own son. One result of this setup is that Homer owes it not only to himself but to other people to continue with his rockets. It's for this reason that Doc wants Homer to keep pursuing his dreams.

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Mr. Isaac Bykovski Character Timeline in Rocket Boys

The timeline below shows where the character Mr. Isaac Bykovski appears in Rocket Boys. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6: Mr. Bykovski
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...weld a nozzle to the bottom of their rocket. Homer decides to approach Mr. Isaac Bykovski about this. He is the father of Esther, a former classmate of Homer’s who was... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
Homer goes to Mr. Bykovski’s house. There, he tells Bykovski that he wants help building a rocket by welding a... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
The next day, Homer brings another tube to Mr. Bykovski, asking him to weld a washer to it. Bykovski obliges, saying that steel will be... (full context)
Chapter 7: Cape Coalwood
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...around” with rockets. He collects Homer’s saltpeter and powdered glue. Guessing correctly that it was Bykovski who helped Homer, Homer Sr. says that he’ll “take care” of Bykovski. (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
The next day, Homer goes to visit Mr. Bykovski. Bykovski explains that Homer Sr. fired him from the machine shop and sent him to... (full context)
Chapter 8: Construction of the Cape
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...on the BCMA, Homer Sr. would be supporting him whole-heartedly. Homer Sr. mentions that Mr. Bykovski wants to teach Homer more about welding—Homer is excited with this news. As his father... (full context)
Chapter 9: Jake Mosby (Auks V-VIII)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
The next weekend, Homer gets a visit from Mr. Bykovski, who offers to teach Homer more welding. Homer senses that Homer Sr. sent Bykovski, perhaps... (full context)
Chapter 11: Rocket Candy: Auks XII-XIII
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...engineer for von Braun instead. Homer Sr. is visibly disappointed, and he adds that Mr. Bykovski would be disappointed too. When Homer asks his father what he means, Homer Sr. explains... (full context)
Chapter 12: The Machinists: Auks XIV-XV
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...science again. Nevertheless, he can’t shake the comment Homer Sr. made about von Braun, Mr. Bykovski, and the Jews. (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Homer goes to visit Mr. Bykovski at his home, but finds that he’s at work. Instead, he talks to Mrs. Mary... (full context)
Chapter 18: The Bump
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...connects to a ventilation shaft, giving them a source of air. Horrified, Homer sees Mrs. Bykovski without her husband, and realizes that he must be trapped underground. (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...they argue, the miners hoist a few of their trapped coworkers up. Homer notices Mr. Bykovski being carried away on a stretcher. There are cries that everyone else is alive—cries which... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...begins to cry, and he tearfully explains that if it hadn’t been for him, Mr. Bykovski wouldn’t have been relegated to the mines, and wouldn’t have been injured. Doc insists that... (full context)
Chapter 19: Picking Up and Going On: Auk XXI
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Ever since witnessing Mr. Bykovski’s death, Homer becomes sullen and lonely. He talks to his parents as little as possible.... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...Mr. Dubonnet. Dubonnet tries to tell Homer that he can’t hold himself responsible for Mr. Bykovski’s death, but Homer ignores him. (full context)
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...what this explanation is, he rushes to the bus stop immediately. There, he finds Mrs. Bykovski: she’s leaving Coalwood to live with her relatives. Homer tells her that he’s responsible for... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
Three weeks after Mr. Bykovski’s death, Homer organizes another rocket launching—he’s taken Mrs. Bykovski’s advice to heart. Nevertheless, he looks... (full context)