Don’t Call Me Ishmael

by

Michael Gerard Bauer

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Don’t Call Me Ishmael can help.

Don’t Call Me Ishmael: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A new boy arrives at St. Daniel’s at the start of second term. Miss Tarango introduces James Scobie to the homeroom class and, in a tone that demands the boys obey, says she’s sure they’ll make James welcome. Ishmael immediately sees why. James Scobie isn’t different enough to garner sympathy. He’s just different enough to make Barry’s eyes light up. He’s small, with perfectly parted and combed hair. His socks are pulled up and turned down to match, and his shorts are pulled up as high as they can go. But what really sets James Scobie apart is his face. It regularly twists to one side and then the other, while James’s eyes pop open and his nose wiggles.
In describing James Scobie and how Barry immediately lights up, Ishmael highlights the fact that Barry likes to target people who are different. Ishmael is different because his name is somewhat unusual; James Scobie, on the other hand, is humorously neat and also has this facial tic. Miss Tarango’s tone when she introduces James suggests she knows what’s going to happen. Demanding the boys welcome James is an attempt to get ahead of Barry’s bullying—and it’s unclear if this attempt will be successful or not.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
The first time James’s face does this, a few boys laugh. Miss Tarango scans the room with a hard stare and most kids stop smiling. Barry, though, looks like he’s just gotten a Christmas present. Ishmael feels terrible for James—but he also wonders if maybe Barry will target James instead of him. It’s not a nice thought, but he has it anyway. This hope is dashed, though, when Miss Tarango assigns Ishmael to be James’s official buddy, since they have almost the same schedule. James takes the desk next to Ishmael.
This passage highlights how much of Ishmael’s brain is dedicated to surviving Barry’s bullying crusade. Ishmael knows it’s mean, but he also knows it’d be less stressful and painful for him if Barry would target someone else for once. However, it is unclear if Ishmael would actually be able to feel okay if Barry targets James. After all, he couldn’t stand by while Barry targeted Marty.
Themes
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Once James is seated, he carefully takes out his planner and several pens and painstakingly arranges them on his desk. His face twists as he carefully writes his name at the top of the planner’s page—his handwriting is illegible. Ishmael notices that everyone, including Miss Tarango and Barry, are also watching James. Barry might as well be drooling. Ishmael knows James will be Barry’s favorite target.
Ishmael’s narration frames James as a curiosity in every way—which, again, marks him as a prime target for Barry. But it’s also worth noting that James doesn’t seem to care, or even be aware, that everyone is staring at him. He may be less susceptible to Barry’s bullying than Ishmael thinks.
Themes
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon