Study Guide

The One and Only Ivan Television

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Window to the World

Whether you love television or hate it, one thing's for certain: It isn't natural. It's artificial through and through, scenes unfolding on a screen, broadcast after being scripted, recorded, and who knows what else in some other time and place than they are viewed. And this—unnaturalness—is what television symbolizes in The One and Only Ivan.

Fun fact: Gorillas in the wild don't watch television. Un-fun fact: Ivan totally does when he lives at the mall. So if we ever forget that he's a gorilla living in a mall, the television in his cage reminds us that this hairy dude is far from home. And not only that, but the place he's in doesn't seem to give two figs about this reality; people clamber to see Ivan, and nary a complaint is filed about how just unsuited to a gorilla his living conditions are (well, until Ivan takes matters into his own hands, that is).

Speaking of people visiting Ivan, in his cage with a glass window, he's sort of like a television show. He's reduced to a character for entertainment, something to ogle instead of seriously consider and care for, a means for Mack to make money first and foremost. The glass window on his cage is like a television screen, and Ivan is stuck behind it, unable to make people look away or control their ability to see him. Ivan is, if you will, regularly scheduled programming.

Interestingly, though, television gets credit for making Ivan aware of the fact that there are actually other gorillas in the world. When he sees another gorilla on a nature program, he understands that he is not the only gorilla in the universe, which is pretty big.

Though Ivan has memories of being with his gorilla family as a baby, by this point he has spent so much time in a cage alone that he's not sure whether there are any others left anymore. So for all of the ways in which television symbolizes unnaturalness in this book, it also begins reconnecting Ivan with nature. And since Ivan never actually returns to the wild—a zoo is the closest he gets (more on that elsewhere in this section)—that television is how Ivan realizes he's not alone as a gorilla is fitting. A manmade connection to nature is Ivan's best option in the end.

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