Don’t Call Me Ishmael

by

Michael Gerard Bauer

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Moby-Dick Symbol Analysis

Moby-Dick Symbol Icon

Ishmael’s relationship to the novel Moby-Dick represents his transformation from feeling insecure and powerless to confident and in control of his life. When readers first meet Ishmael, he believes that all his problems in life (such as suffering from the fictional Ishmael Leseur’s Syndrome, which makes the sufferer do embarrassing things) can be traced back to Moby-Dick’s author, Herman Melville. It’s Melville’s fault, Ishmael reasons, for writing Moby-Dick, naming his narrator Ishmael, and putting into the world a novel his parents would eventually study in college—and choose to take as inspiration for their son’s name. And his name, Ishmael believes, spurs others to exhibit “disturbing behavior,” as when Dad forces people to listen to the story of how Ishmael got his name, or when Barry Bagsley taunts Ishmael for having a “wussy-crap name.” At this point, Ishmael does everything he can to hide from his name and from his name’s origins. In this way, Moby-Dick is initially associated with Ishmael’s low self-esteem, and his mindset that outside influences (whether a book or other people) dictate who he is.

But as Ishmael gains confidence through the debating club, he begins to feel less self-conscious about his name. And things really take a turn when Ishmaels crush, Kelly Faulkner, inspires him to actually read Moby-Dick and learn what Melville’s Ishmael is like. To Ishmael’s surprise, he discovers that he’s nothing like the fictional Ishmael—and in fact, he’s a lot more like Captain Ahab, the mad captain seeking the titular whale, Moby-Dick. Reading Moby-Dick thus helps Ishmael realize that his name doesn’t define him, and that he alone gets to decide who he is. Learning about his namesake by reading Moby-Dick, and having Kelly write “Call me Ishmael” (the first line of Moby-Dick) as a way of telling him to call her, give Ishmael newfound confidence, pride, and understanding of himself. Moby-Dick therefore comes to represent Ishmael’s realization that he has the power to shape his identity and his life—and that he isn’t destined for failure and mediocrity.

Moby-Dick Quotes in Don’t Call Me Ishmael

The Don’t Call Me Ishmael quotes below all refer to the symbol of Moby-Dick. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Greenwillow Books edition of Don’t Call Me Ishmael published in 2007.
Chapter 4 Quotes

And if it hadn’t been my terrible fate to end up as Ishmael Leseur, then none of the disasters of my life would have happened and today I would be a happy normal teenager, like everyone else my age.

Related Characters: Ishmael Leseur (speaker), Bill Kingsley, Ignatius Prindabel, James Scobie
Related Symbols: Moby-Dick
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

“Ishmael? What kind of a wussy-crap name is that?”

What could I say? Up to this point in my life I hadn’t even known it was a wussy-crap name. No one had warned me that I had a wussy-crap name. Why would my parents give me a wussy-crap name in the first place? Was Herman Melville aware it was a wussy-crap name?

Related Characters: Barry Bagsley (speaker), Ishmael Leseur (speaker), Mom, Dad
Related Symbols: Moby-Dick
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 40 Quotes

“What’s he like?”

“My father?”

“No—Ishmael—the person you’re named after.”

“Oh yeah, right,” I said, feeling like a dork.

“Well?”

“What…oh…I don’t know what he’s like. I’ve never read it.”

“Really? You haven’t read it? How come? If I was named after someone in a book, I’d definitely want to read it to find out what they were like. You know, see if I was like them.”

Related Characters: Ishmael Leseur (speaker), Kelly Faulkner (speaker)
Related Symbols: Moby-Dick
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 41 Quotes

The second thing I decided to do was ask Dad if I could borrow his copy of Moby-Dick. “Aaarrgh, me hearty,” he said, rolling his eyes crazily, “ye be seeking the white whale!”

I wasn’t, though. I be seeking Ishmael.

Related Characters: Ishmael Leseur (speaker), Dad (speaker), Kelly Faulkner, Barry Bagsley
Related Symbols: Moby-Dick
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 42 Quotes

But there was someone else onboard the Pequod who I could relate to. Maybe I hadn’t lost my leg to a great white whale like he had, but I understood what it was like to have a part of yourself torn away, and I also knew how much you could grow to hate whoever or whatever it was that had taken that part from you. I knew all about that, because every time Barry Bagsley taunted me and ground my name into the dirt, and every time he paid out on Bill Kingsley and I did nothing, it felt like there was much more of me missing than just a limb. But was I really like Ahab? Did I crave revenge like him? Would I really like to hunt down Barry Bagsley and harpoon him and make him suffer for what he had done?

You bet.

Related Characters: Ishmael Leseur (speaker), Bill Kingsley, Barry Bagsley
Related Symbols: Moby-Dick
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 50 Quotes

But do you want to know the really weird thing? Well, I’ll tell you. The really weird thing was that as I lay there with only the raspy sound of my breathing filling my ears and with the spongy grass of St. Daniel’s playing fields buoying me up, I could have sworn that I was floating and bobbing on the surface of a vast green ocean. Remind you of anyone?

Go on—call me Ishmael if you like.

After all, as the Big Z would say, I’m da man!

Related Symbols: Moby-Dick
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:
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Moby-Dick Symbol Timeline in Don’t Call Me Ishmael

The timeline below shows where the symbol Moby-Dick appears in Don’t Call Me Ishmael. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 7
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 10
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
...Ishmael’s battle isn’t over. Things are worse now that Miss Tarango has introduced Barry to Moby-Dick; now, Barry’s cruel names are whale themed. In Miss Tarango’s class, he’s harmless—all Miss Tarango... (full context)
Chapter 40
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...“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... (full context)
Chapter 41
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
...says, Kelly will stay in his daydreams. And second, Ishmael decides it’s time to read Moby-Dick. When he asks Dad for his old copy, Dad says that Ishmael is seeking the... (full context)
Chapter 42
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Reading Moby-Dick isn’t at all straightforward. Dad insists that Ishmael can’t read the abridged version, so Ishmael... (full context)
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Ishmael does relate to one character in Moby-Dick, though: Captain Ahab. Ishmael still has both his legs, but he knows what it feels... (full context)
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
This feeling persists, not because of Moby-Dick but because Barry’s attacks on Bill continue to escalate. Barry leaves pictures of sumo wrestlers,... (full context)
Chapter 44
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bullying and Courage Theme Icon
Ishmael finishes Moby-Dick that weekend. When he gives the book back to Dad, Dad insists they have to... (full context)
Chapter 47
Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
...unusual, and Ishmael leans into it. He explains that he’s named after the narrator of Moby-Dick. Then, Mrs. Bagsley catches sight of her husband. She says goodbye to Ishmael and suggests... (full context)