Don’t Call Me Ishmael


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 4 Summary & Analysis

The real culprit of Ishmael Leseur’s Syndrome is, of course, Herman Melville. If Herman Melville hadn’t written his famous novel Moby-Dick 150 years ago, Mom and Dad wouldn’t have studied it at university and met each other in their American Literature class. Dad’s joke about Mom being a white whale wouldn’t have meant anything, and there would be no famous Ishmael to name Ishmael after. Without Herman Melville, Ishmael would be “a happy normal teenager, like everyone else [his] age.”
It's worth looking at Mom and Dad’s name choice from a different perspective: it might have been a joke in the moment, but it also seems like Moby-Dick was a central part of their early relationship. It doesn’t seem, from this view, that they were trying to curse Ishmael. Ishmael’s insistence that he’d be happy and normal if he had a different name reflects his youth and immaturity—as he’ll soon discover, he’s not the only teenager who struggles with his identity.
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Ishmael urges readers to go pick up a copy of Moby-Dick if they don’t believe him; all they have to do is read the first three words of Chapter One. These three words are the root of all Ishmael’s trouble. Ishmael reads them: “Call me Ishmael.” He sarcastically thanks Herman Melville.
In some ways, Ishmael feels as though Herman Melville’s words trap him and dictate the course of his life. His identity, he believes, is so wrapped up in Melville’s Moby-Dick that Ishmael doesn’t think he can choose what kind of person he’d like to be—the novel has determined that for him.
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon