Don’t Call Me Ishmael

by

Michael Gerard Bauer

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael: Chapter 39 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Miss Tarango is more than happy to make Bill a new certificate; Ishmael tells her Bill lost his and is too embarrassed to ask for a new one. Then, as Ishmael heads for lunch, Barry asks why Ishmael looks so unhappy. Without thinking, Ishmael snaps that Barry did a “shitty” thing yesterday wrecking Bill’s certificate. Barry insists he didn’t do it, and he threatens Ishmael if Ishmael tries to accuse him of things. They argue for a minute and then Barry asks the question: if Ishmael is going to make him leave Bill alone. Ishmael knows he can’t make Barry stop. Barry isn’t afraid of anything.
In this passage, Ishmael essentially proposes that he can tell Barry that Barry is being mean and rude, and ask Barry to stop, all he wants. But that’s not going to stop Barry, since Barry doesn’t listen to other people’s logic or pleas for mercy. Indeed, Barry asking if Ishmael is going to make him stop tormenting Bill seems like a veiled invitation for Ishmael to get physically violent with him. Barry is trying to make it seem like words can’t hurt him.
Themes
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
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Related Quotes
Ishmael asks what Bill has ever done to Barry. Barry quips that Bill is so fat that it makes him feel ill. Bill makes the building shake, blocks his view in class, and knocks into his desk. Barry concludes by saying that he’ll continue to do whatever he wants. As Barry walks away, Ishmael feels like Barry tore one of his limbs off. The feeling doesn’t go away when Ishmael gives Bill his new certificate, or when Bill says his parents are getting it framed. Ishmael tries to tell himself things are fine now, but he can’t stop thinking of the look on Bill’s face when he opened the desk. And these days, Barry seems to be harassing Bill more often—Ishmael unwittingly turned Bill into a bigger target.
What Barry says about Bill here is classic (and out of line) bullying behavior. Ishmael, for his part, feels helpless to stop it. And saying that it feels like Barry tore off a limb shows that bullying one student doesn’t just hurt that one student—it hurts other people, too. And seeing Barry target Bill seems to bug Ishmael more than it did when he was Barry’s favorite target. This shows, first, how close Ishmael is to Bill; he doesn’t want to see a close friend hurt. But it also shows how much Ishmael has changed—recall that when Scobie arrived, Ishmael briefly hoped that Scobie would take Barry’s attention away from him. Now, such a thought seems inconceivable to Ishmael.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Ishmael still feels terrible a week later, when Razza asks if Ishmael will go with him to the debating finals (Ignatius and Bill are busy). Ishmael refuses, but Razza insists on hearing why Ishmael has been looking so down lately. With some convincing, Ishmael tells Razza about the certificate. Razza makes jokes, but then he notes that Barry is a “wanker” and so when Barry calls him things like “Or-arse-i-hole” or “Zit-arse,” who cares? Ishmael sees Razza’s point, but he doesn’t think it’s so easy for everyone to brush off Barry’s taunts.
Razza makes an important point: logically, bullies like Barry shouldn’t have such an effect on their victims, since Barry is a jerk and not worth trying to impress anyway. But Ishmael knows that bullying isn’t always logical like this. It’s not easy to be like Razza and acknowledge that this is true—and also make yourself believe it’s true and not take the bullies seriously.
Themes
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Razza asks if Ishmael wants to trash Barry’s things and then notes that the Zorzottos have connections in Sicily—he can make Barry disappear. Or they can just leave some horse heads on Barry’s doorstep. Ishmael declines the offer. Razza says that in any case, he’ll back Ishmael up if Ishmael ever decides to take on Barry. Ishmael knows it’s true—Razza will be there for him. He agrees to go to the debating final and asks if this is about debating or the blond girl from Preston. Razza says he’s totally just going for the blond girl. He's the Razzman, and he needs a sidekick.
Razza’s offers might be jokes, but Ishmael understands what Razza is really saying: that he’s on Ishmael and Bill’s side and will always be there to back up his friends. Knowing this, it’s much easier for Ishmael to agree to go to the debating final. After all, part of being a friend is supporting one’s friends—and as Razza insists here, he needs a sidekick as he attempts to woo the Preston blond girl.
Themes
Friendship Theme Icon
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