Don’t Call Me Ishmael

by

Michael Gerard Bauer

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s the first day of Year Nine. Everything is new—aside, of course, from Barry calling Ishmael “Le Sewer.” Fortunately, the homeroom teacher, Miss Tarango, arrives. Miss Tarango is like no teacher Ishmael has had before. She’s young, pretty, and seems genuinely happy to be teaching at St. Daniel’s. She has curly blond hair and dimples when she smiles. Ishmael adores her instantly, but he knows she won’t last the term. When she introduces herself and shares that this is her first year teaching, Ishmael realizes she won’t last the week.
The way that Ishmael describes Miss Tarango portrays her as sweet and innocent—not the kind of woman, he implies, capable of taking on a school full of boys. And given how Ishmael has described the bullying culture at St. Daniel’s, this makes sense—Miss Tarango, because she’s female and because of her enthusiasm for teaching, seems wildly out of place and as though she’ll be an easy target for Barry.
Themes
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
As Miss Tarango asks everyone to quiet down so she can take roll, Barry says he wouldn’t mind “doing a roll with her.” Miss Tarango pleasantly tells Barry she missed his comment and then continues to stare at him until Barry and his friends stop smirking. Then, Miss Tarango calls roll and asks Barry to answer with something more polite than “Yo!” in the future. When she gets to Ishmael, she asks how to properly pronounce his last name. Barry cackles that Ishmael’s name is Fishtail Le-sewer, but Miss Tarango tells Barry she tries to respect every student by learning their names—and she expects Barry to do the same.
As expected, Barry immediately starts being rude to Miss Tarango, which suggests that Barry generally expects teachers to put up with his shenanigans. This is reinforced when Barry seems to have no qualms about butchering Ishmael’s name in front of Miss Tarango—presumably, teachers usually allow this sort of thing to happen. But Miss Tarango shows quickly that she prizes respect, and she won’t allow Barry to walk all over her.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Then, Miss Tarango notes that Ishmael is a famous name in literature. Ishmael feels ready to die as she asks the students the name of the famous novel with Ishmael as a protagonist. Bill Kingsley offers Star Trek with genuine seriousness. Finally, Miss Tarango says the novel is Moby-Dick. Barry snickers; why would someone title their novel Moby-Dick? Miss Tarango says seriously that she’s not sure—but it’s possible Melville decided on it in the same way that someone could’ve decided that Barry looked like a Dick instead of a Barry. She suggests Barry could do some research and put together a presentation, which silences Barry.
Miss Tarango initially frames introducing Moby-Dick to students as a fun fact that will make Ishmael feel special and broaden students’ horizons. But because Ishmael hates his name and its source, this is just a source of embarrassment for him. For Barry, learning that Ishmael’s name comes from a novel titled Moby-Dick just gives him more ammunition—he’s making a penis joke here, which speaks to his immaturity. Again, though, Miss Tarango shows that she can meet Barry at his level—and won’t tolerate his rudeness and bullying.
Themes
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon