Don’t Call Me Ishmael

by

Michael Gerard Bauer

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Barry leaves Scobie alone for the rest of the week, but Ishmael can tell that something is up. Ishmael notices Barry huddling with Danny, Doug, and a boy from Year Ten—which is odd, since the Year Ten boy is brainy and not a sadist. Over the next few weeks, though, the Year Ten boy gives several boxes to Barry and his cronies. Finally, one Monday morning, things come to a head. The Year Ten boy gives Ishmael a note sending him to the office. At the office, nobody knows why Ishmael is there.
Ishmael is very observant and very tuned in to what Barry is up to at all times. So as he watches these odd things happen, it creates tension—for Ishmael and for the reader. The fact that Barry is planning something at all suggests that he’s not going to just let Scobie win. Rather, Barry feels he has to get back at Scobie and reassert his dominance over the student body.
Themes
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Then, when Ishmael gets to homeroom late, Doug is sitting on Scobie’s desk and talking to Danny. These two are seldom in class, so this is concerning. And Scobie is missing. Ishmael knows something is up, especially when he realizes Barry is also gone. This isn’t unusual, but it does make Ishmael’s stomach churn. Danny asks if Ishmael is okay and says that Scobie is fine. He points out the window to where Barry and Scobie are talking. The two shake hands and then head for the stairs. Danny announces to the class that Scobie is going to get his fear back—and everyone can help by staying quiet about this.
Keep in mind that Danny essentially tells his classmates that he and Barry have put together whatever’s going to happen next. Even though he warns everyone to stay quiet, this still shows that the bullies are pretty comfortable trusting their classmates to not get them in trouble with the adults. And this shows again how the bullying persists: it doesn’t take place where teachers can see it, and kids don’t feel safe reporting it. 
Themes
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Moments later, Scobie and Barry walk in. Scobie gives Ishmael a nod, sits at his desk, and unpacks his bag. Then, he lifts the lid of his desk. As soon as the lid lifts, grasshoppers fly out, followed by stick insects as long as rulers. One flies into the fan, which throws its broken body into the blackboard. One clings to Bill Kingsley’s shirt until Bill rips his shirt off and throws it over Doug’s head. While this is happening, dozens of cockroaches crawl out of the desk. The boy in front of Scobie laughs—until he notices three massive spiders on his shirt front.
Recall that Scobie insisted his brain surgery cured him of his fear, specifically of bugs. This prank banks on the belief that Scobie was lying—and, presumably, is going to be overcome with fear just like the rest of his classmates. The fact that pretty much everyone else is upset and frightened humanizes the other boys—they all feel fear, at least in cruelly contrived situations like this.
Themes
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Ishmael fares no better than the other boys; the wave of insects is terrifying. After retreating to the far corner of the room, he looks back to where Scobie is sitting motionless, his hands still on the desk lid. Then, finally, Scobie puts his arms down and turns to stare at Barry. A spider as big as a saucer is clinging to Scobie’s cheek. Nobody says anything—until Miss Tarango comes in and shrieks.
If Scobie is afraid, he’s doing a great job of hiding it—a huge spider on the face would frighten many people. Not showing fear in this moment allows Scobie to get the upper hand over Barry, as he clearly wasn’t lying. And now that Miss Tarango knows about the bugs, it seems like only a matter of time before the culprits are found out.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
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