Study Guide

The One and Only Ivan Freedom and Confinement

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Freedom and Confinement

I am mightier than any human, 400 pounds of pure power. (how I look.17)

Ivan knows he is bigger and more powerful than humans, yet he is helpless. Is this mental containment, physical containment, or both?

With enough time, you can get used to anything. (the loneliest gorilla in the world.100)

Is there a difference between acceptance and giving up?

They seem to find it odd, the sight of a gorilla staring at tiny human in a box.

[…] Isn't the way they stare at me […] just as strange? (tv.102-103)

Ivan lives in a box and is stared at by humans, sometimes while staring at humans on television, which is a box in its own right. Feeling a little dizzy? Hop on over to the "Symbols" section for more on television.

If there was a he somewhere could there be a she somewhere? Or was it just the two of us in the world, trapped in our own separate boxes? (the nature show.118)

Ivan spots another gorilla on television one night, and when he does, he realizes that he is most definitely not the only gorilla on the planet. He might feel lonely inside his cage, but at least he now knows he's not alone.

A bull is like a silverback, noble, contained. Calm like a cobra is calm. (stella.132)

Here we see containment being about self-control and command of personal power. It's a totally different take on the idea of freedom—you might even say, that here Ivan's identifying animals' ability to choose when they unleash their power.

Circling Stella's legs are long ago scars of the chains she wore as a youth. (stella's trunk.136)

Stella's body bears the marks of life cooped up. She wasn't just tied, either—she was done so in a way that marred her skin permanently. Ouch.

They put us in a cramped, dark crate that smelled of urine and fear. (vine.645)

After being captured by poachers, Ivan and his sister were forced into this terrible box. It's only the start of Ivan's life being locked-up, but it's a pretty terrible start at that.

It's not the perfect place. A perfect place would not need walls. But it's the place that I need. (ad.944)

Ivan's talking about the zoo here, and importantly, he recognizes that it isn't the same as the wild. How much do you think this diminishes the freedom he finally gets by moving to the zoo from the mall?

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