The narrator is in the process of finalizing a plan, though he doesn’t immediately say what this plan is. He drives to a mechanic shop near the carnival, where he proceeds to get his car checked. The mechanic tells the narrator that there are a few problems, which will take a few days to sort out. The narrator reluctantly leaves his car in the shop, rents a van, and gets 2,400 dollars out of the bank—all of his money. He is planning to buy Ishmael and drive him away, but he has no idea where.
The narrator has learned a great deal from Ishmael, but he’s still unsure what to do with the information. His plan to escape with Ishmael is badly thought out, reflecting his uncertainty about how to use the knowledge he’s been given. He’s still in the stage of trying to apply simplified ideals to the complexities of reality.
Having waited over the weekend for his car repairs, the narrator drives back to the carnival. There, he is surprised to find that the carnival has moved on. He notices the bribee, who tells the narrator that Ishmael died of pneumonia over the weekend. The narrator, shocked to hear this, realizes that Ishmael had been sick during their last few lessons. He asks the bribee what’s happened to Ishmael’s body. The bribee replies that it’s been cremated, along with road kill. Stunned, the narrator notices that the bribee is carrying the books, maps, and drawings that Ishmael made for the narrator. He asks the bribee if he could have these things, and the bribee gives them to him.
It has often seemed as if the narrator is focusing on Ishmael too much—that is, relying on his advice instead of thinking things through for himself. Ironically, it now seems as if the narrator hasn’t paid enough attention to Ishmael—he didn’t notice that Ishmael was dying until it was too late. While the narrator did bring Ishmael blankets, he should have also been quicker in his plan to buy him from the circus. Instead, Ishmael exists in the novel as a martyr, dying as a direct result of his investment in educating the narrator.
The narrator drives back to his home, and then calls the Sokolow household. Partridge, the butler, answers the phone. The narrator informs him that Ishmael is dead, and that he and Partridge could have saved him. Partridge asks the narrator if Ishmael would have let them do so, and the narrator replies that he’s not sure.
We wonder if Partridge knew about Ishmael’s intelligence all along, since he assumes that Ishmael had agency and personal views. At its close, the world of the novel starts to expand—to other people who might seem ignorant about the Takers and the Leavers, but are actually more aware than they let on.
The narrator looks over Ishmael’s books and papers, and notices the poster saying, “WITH MAN GONE, WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR GORILLA?” He turns it over, and on the other side the poster says, “WITH GORILLA GONE, WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR MAN?”
With the poster, the novel comes full circle in an elegant way. While the first of the two questions posed here had seemed ambiguous, like a Zen koan, the second seems almost perfectly straightforward: now that Ishmael is dead, what will the narrator do? Will he return to his Taker lifestyle, or will he endeavor to spread Ishmael’s teachings to others? As we think about this problem, it becomes clear what the answer is. The narrator has spread Ishmael’s teachings, by writing the book we’ve just finished. Thus, the poster isn’t merely asking the narrator what he’ll do next—it’s also challenging us, the readers, to take the knowledge we’ve gained by reading Ishmael and translate it into action.