Study Guide

Mack in The One and Only Ivan

By Katherine Applegate

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Bad Guy or Sad Clown?

Mack is the boss, and the guy most likely to have zero likes on Facebook. Though it's tempting to see him as a cut and dry bad guy, in fairness, he's more someone who's made bad decisions than someone who's cruel to their core. Among these bad decisions, of course, is keeping Ivan cooped up in a cage in a mall for twenty-seven years, not to mention his treatment of elephants. While this is all pretty terrible, Mack's a dude who's down and out more than he is evil, a misdirected man who occasionally shows his heart.

Mack is also the clown and ringleader of the Big Top, though as far as clowns go, Mack is a sad and not particularly amusing one who should probably find a new line of work. He has painted himself and the animals into a corner because he can't really afford to keep the place in good shape, and he doesn't have the money or the know-how to build the animals the life they deserve.

Though he once treated Ivan as if he were almost his son, his life kind of went sour after his wife left and he grew less attached to Ivan, who was a sore spot in their marriage. These days, Mack drinks and his ethics are, well, questionable.

Okay, Done Being Nice

Let's face it: Mack's negligence is what kills Stella, and for that he should be the one getting the claw stick. Wait, that's not a very nice thing to say, is it? Let's reframe that: Mack's actions, or inaction as the case may be, cause him to lose everything, including Ivan, who was a companion to him at one point.

So in the end, you could say that Mack gets his just desserts. While Ivan and Ruby and the others go on to happier lives, Mack ends up sadder, more alone than ever, and bankrupt. It's not literally a cage, but we're imagining it probably feels like one from where Mack's sitting. Insofar as Mack represents people who don't treat animals with respect, his fate in this book is a cautionary tale if we've ever seen one.

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