Don’t Call Me Ishmael

by

Michael Gerard Bauer

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael: Chapter 38 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A few days after getting Scobie’s letter, Miss Tarango announces that Scobie won’t be returning to school for “personal” and “family” reasons. This brings Barry suddenly back to life. Barry taunts Ishmael and asks what Ishmael is going to do without Scobie to protect him. Barry asks if the debating “girls” are going to give him a talking-to. Ishmael ignores Barry. He doesn’t point out that Scobie, whom Barry calls a “little dork,” has kept Barry in line for months. A week later, Barry leaps at the opportunity to make life miserable.
As Ishmael predicted earlier, Barry stops behaving himself once Scobie isn’t around to keep him in line. But things have still changed since Scobie first arrived at school—namely, Ishmael now realizes that Barry can be put in his place and kept there if one is willing to stand up to him. Before, Barry seemed all-powerful to Ishmael, but that’s no longer the case.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
It’s a Thursday. At assembly, the members of the debating teams get participation certificates, and Ishmael’s team gets special certificates for getting to the semifinals. It’s the first certificate Bill has ever gotten. Later in the afternoon, Ishmael notices Barry, Danny, and Doug huddled around a computer in the library. This should raise suspicions.
At first, things seem to be looking up. The school administration recognizes that debating is helping students feel confident and capable—especially students like Bill, who didn’t seem to be doing well before. But Barry and his cronies seem poised to undo these gains.
Themes
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
After school, Ishmael finds Bill at his locker. Bill can’t find his debating certificate, which isn’t a surprise—Bill loses everything, including the lock for his locker. But Bill notes that nobody would want to steal a certificate with his name on it. He didn’t take it to class, and it’s not in his bag. Dejected, Bill says he was looking forward to showing his parents.
Though Ishmael makes it seem like it wouldn’t be a stretch for Bill to have just lost his certificate, the suspicions about Barry and Barry’s gang make this seem way less likely. No matter what’s happened, though, the effect is the same: Bill doesn’t feel as successful and valued as he did hours ago.
Themes
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Ishmael suggests they go check Bill’s desk, just in case it got stuck in a book. When Bill lifts his desk, the certificate is pinned to the inside of the lid. Someone glued a picture of Jabba the Hutt to the certificate and changed the wording to read: “Awarded to: William King-size, For: Being a fat turd.” Seeing the look on Bill’s face, Ishmael rips the certificate out of the desk and says he’s taking it to Mr. Barker—he knows Barry did this, and Barry can’t get away with it. Bill begs Ishmael not to. It’s just a piece of paper. He wads it up and shoves it into his bag, and then he thanks Ishmael for helping him find it.
Barry is essentially using Bill’s love of sci-fi to hurt Bill. Jabba the Hutt is a Star Wars villain whose image has become shorthand for obesity. So the very thing that got Bill this certificate in the first place (his love of sci-fi) is now being used to tear him down. Ishmael knows what, in theory, he should do: go to Mr. Barker and report this instance of bullying. But Bill believes that telling Mr. Barker is just going to make things worse for him—at this point, it seems safer to ignore Barry.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Ishmael feels terrible. He’s terrible at helping people. The boy he helped just got his hat thrown in the creek, the debating team lost twice, and now Bill feels terrible. As Ishmael leaves Bill at the bus stop, he promises himself to do two things. First, he’s going to ask Miss Tarango to make Bill a new certificate. Second, he vows to make Barry pay for all the terrible things he’s done someday.
When Ishmael is feeling good, it’s not hard for him to give himself credit for trying new things and making progress. But when he’s in a mental state like he is now, where he feels terrible about himself and what he can do, Ishmael starts to feel helpless again. Vowing to get back at Barry, though, shows that Ishmael is now more willing to fight back.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon