Don’t Call Me Ishmael

by

Michael Gerard Bauer

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael: Chapter 40 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ishmael spends the night of the debating final trying to contain Razza (who gets very enthusiastic when the Preston blond girl speaks). Preston wins. After their victory, Ishmael stands with Razza while Razza congratulates the Preston team. After a while, Razza manages to pull the blond away. Ishmael finds a quiet spot to drink some soda—and then, Kelly Faulkner walks up and introduces herself. Ishmael is stunned and can barely make words. He just stares at her and remembers that fateful debate with horror.
Ishmael has been feeling pretty good about his night at the finals—but when Kelly arrives, Ishmael can’t help but feel self-conscious and out of control. Kelly showing up, though, also gives Ishmael an opportunity to grow and see if perhaps, this time, he can say something reasonable to her.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Kelly asks about the peg person. Ishmael notes that it was Ringo from the Beatles and briefly explains Prue’s influential peg person project. Awkwardly, Kelly tells Ishmael he did well stepping in at the last minute. And suddenly, Ishmael realizes Kelly must want an apology for being groped. Ishmael starts to haltingly explain and apologize—and when Kelly catches on, she tries to tell him not to. When they both finally stop, Kelly is blushing hard.
It seems like both Ishmael and Kelly would ideally like to forget that Ishmael never fainted and accidentally groped her—but Ishmael is honest and honorable, so he feels compelled to try and apologize. Seeing Kelly get so embarrassed, though, shows readers (if not Ishmael) that he's not the only teen in the novel who’s mortified by past events—he’s probably normal in this regard.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Kelly shakes her head and says she’s really here to thank Ishmael for helping her brother, Marty. Ishmael is shocked. Kelly explains that Marty came home and told her all about it, though he couldn’t remember Ishmael’s name—he could only remember that Barry called Ishmael “Fish-whale” and “sewer.” Seeing Ishmael’s face, Kelly says boys are charming. She continues that she wanted to thank him after that first debate but didn’t get the chance. Fortunately, Ishmael isn’t a popular name, so she was able to track him down.
For Ishmael, it’s a total shock to learn that Marty is Kelly’s little brother. Suddenly, Ishmael has a connection to Kelly—and to her, Ishmael looks like a hero who did a selfless, generous thing. But this exchange isn’t all good, since Kelly had to track Ishmael down after only hearing Barry’s taunts of Ishmael. So this conversation also forces Ishmael to remember Barry’s bullying in a space where, normally, he’d feel safe.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Ishmael says his name is “stupid.” Kelly says it’s interesting, but Ishmael explains that his name comes from the novel Moby-Dick. Ishmael is the narrator. Ishmael then admits that he’s never actually read the book. Kelly is shocked; if she was named after a literary character, she’d want to know what the book was all about. Ishmael offers that he’s read the first line, “Call me Ishmael.” Ishmael says he hates the line—inevitably, there’s always someone who blurts it out when they meet him. He’ll scream if he hears it again, but Kelly isn’t convinced it’s all that bad.
Kelly implies that Ishmael is potentially missing out on a whole lot of background info by not sitting down and reading Moby-Dick. Essentially, she plants the idea that perhaps Ishmael’s naming wasn’t just a big joke for his parents; there might have been more to their decision to name their son Ishmael than the fact that Dad made a whale joke. But Ishmael will never know if he never goes looking for his fictional namesake.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Just as Kelly starts to excuse herself, she stops and points behind Ishmael to where Razza is leaping around and making faces at Ishmael. She asks if Ishmael knows him, and Ishmael says he doesn’t. As Razza attempts to moonwalk and bumps into people, Ishmael says Razza has a serious brain condition: he doesn’t have a brain. Kelly laughs and, in that moment, Ishmael realizes nothing will happen between them. He doesn’t have to worry about embarrassing himself, because he’s so ordinary compared to her.
Razza is presumably teasing Ishmael for doing what he told him to do and speaking to Kelly. And perhaps unwittingly on Razza’s part, this helps Ishmael come to a realization: he’s not going to impress Kelly by trying so hard to look good. He might have better luck if he relaxes and allows himself to act like himself. This is a huge step, as it seems to be the first time Ishmael essentially vows to stop being self-conscious.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Ishmael tells Kelly that Razza is actually a superhero, but he has to pretend to be an “idiot” to hide his real identity. Ishmael is his sidekick. Kelly plays along and pretends to be impressed. When she smiles at Ishmael, her smile is so beautiful that Ishmael thinks it should be illegal. Finally, Kelly says she has to go. Razza swoops in before Kelly can walk away and introduces himself as the Razzman. Kelly says Razza’s secret is safe with her and disappears. Ishmael feels like his heart just walked away.
As Ishmael relaxes, he finds that, to his surprise, Kelly plays along and seems to enjoy the exchange. Talking to his crush, he’s discovering, doesn’t have to be so anxiety-inducing. Noting that his heart is walking away with Kelly, though, mirrors what Ishmael said earlier about feeling like Barry tore off a limb. At this point, Ishmael is in pieces, just as he’s trying to piece together his identity.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon