Don’t Call Me Ishmael

by

Michael Gerard Bauer

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Scobie and Ishmael get to the stadium, Mr. Hardcastle seats them behind the St. Daniel’s bench. The boys watch the players warm up. To Ishmael, the Churchill team seems way bigger. Fortunately, Churchill’s biggest, scariest player, Frankie Crow, is out with a knee injury. The first half of the game is a grind. By halftime, each team has one touchdown—and Coach Hardcastle tells Scobie to get ready. Near the end of halftime, Scobie takes the microphone, marches onto the field, and reads his poem. The crowd screams as he recites it and, by the end, the team seems ready to fight.
Ishmael’s observation about the size of the Churchill players shows that he’s still not totally convinced that language can win out over physical attributes. And the state of the game by halftime seems to support this: St. Daniel’s seems to be struggling. But Scobie’s poem also seems to come to the rescue and spur the smaller, weaker St. Daniel’s players to try even harder to beat Churchill.
Themes
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Throughout the second half, the St. Daniel’s team fights hard. But near the end of the fourth quarter, the boys are clearly tired. For no apparent reason, Coach Hardcastle replaces the team’s best wide receiver with Peter Chung, who’s well-liked but a poor player. His only skill is being able to run. Soon after, Frankie Crow takes the field, his knee bandaged. He takes his place opposite Peter. Peter looks terrified.
Importantly, the novel never goes so far as to suggest that someone who’s bigger or physically violent isn’t scary. This is why Ishmael has been afraid of Barry, and this is why Peter is terrified when he finds himself opposite Frankie Crow. But it also seems likely that, somehow, language is going to come to the rescue and level the field here.
Themes
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
With less than one minute left, St. Daniel’s lines up for what Ishmael knows will be a pass to Peter. Scobie stands up and starts shouting lines from his poem—and Peter takes off. He and Frankie Crow both leap at the ball and, unsurprisingly, Frankie steamrolls Peter. But Frankie twists his knee and falls. Peter snatches the ball and races down the field, evading a defensive back and stopping right in front of the endzone. Peter plays it up, pretending to listen to the crowd before stepping into the endzone. Coach Hardcastle weeps as the team mobs Peter. Two huge linemen lift Scobie onto their shoulders and parade him around. Scobie shouts for people to come to the debate meetings next week. Ishmael admires Scobie, but there’s no way he’s going.
Ishmael attributes the St. Daniel’s win to Scobie’s poem (and Coach Hardcastle, as well as the other players, seem to feel the same way). This is an acknowledgement that carefully chosen language can increase the overall power of someone who isn’t as physically powerful (as it did for Peter Chung). But while Ishmael can acknowledge this and agree that Scobie did something amazing here, he’s still not fully sold on the possibility that language can help him. This is why he’s not at all interested in joining the debate team.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon