Study Guide

The One and Only Ivan Identity

By Katherine Applegate

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I used to be a wild gorilla, and I still look the part. (how I look.14)

Ivan describes himself like an actor playing a role in a film or a play, and when he does, his sort of neither-here-nor-there identity begins to be established.

I am a great ape and you are a great ape, and so are chimpanzees and orangutans and bonobos, all of us distant and distrustful cousins. (how I look.18)

Ivan reminds us of the fact that humans descended from apes. Do you think this makes his forced captivity at the hands of humans harder for him than it is for his animal friends who aren't so closely related to humans?

I too find it hard to believe there is a connection across time and space, linking me to a race of ill-mannered clowns. (how I look.20)

In other words, much as humans like to distance themselves from Ivan and other apes, so, too, does Ivan like to distance himself from other apes, mainly chimps. Ivan really doesn't like chimps.

I live here because I am too much human and not enough gorilla. (the exit 8 big top mall.27)

A life in captivity has really diminished Ivan's ability to behave like a gorilla—he has a hard time adjusting to life with other gorillas later on when he gets to the zoo—but is he really too much human? It seems to us that it's more like humans have controlled his life for too long than he's actually too human himself.

I don't do any tricks. Mack says it's enough for me to be me. (the littlest big top.53)

Here Ivan is comparing himself to the other animals who have to do tricks to entertain the crowd. Why isn't it enough for an elephant to be just an elephant?

The glass says you are this and we are that and that is how it will always be. (gone.63)

Ivan lives his life on display for the public behind a sheet of glass. His life, then, is reduced to human entertainment. And since he's the one trapped behind the glass, no wonder he feels like this "is how it will always be."

I think I've always been an artist. (shapes in clouds.86)

Forget about the human/ape distinctions—the thing Ivan is most secure about is his identity as an artist.

In a Western you can tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and the good guys always win. (tv.108)

Bob might be right when he tells Ivan that this is nothing like real life. Then again, though, is there any doubt about who the bad guys are in Ivan's story?

Gorillas are not complainers. We're dreamers, poets, philosophers, nap takers. (not sleepy.234)

Shmoop, too, Ivan; Shmoop, too. We do have on question, though: Since this describes Ivan so perfectly, has he really lost touch with his gorilla ways?

"Your gorilla hearts are made of ice. Ours are made of fire." (knowing.584)

Okay, Stella, you obviously just returned from the Elephant Pride Parade. But Ivan doesn't need more things to feel badly about right now.

He was everything a silverback was meant to be: a guide, a teacher, a protector. (protector.638)

No one is perfect, but Ivan lets his view of his father as the quintessential silverback gorilla overshadow his own idea of who he is. In Ivan's defense, though, he hasn't met a whole lot of other gorillas, so he doesn't have much else to work with when it comes to understanding what defines a silverback.

I imagine a different Ivan, my father's son. (pretending.1435)

What would the raised in the wild, spitting image of Ivan's father even look like? Can Ivan be that guy if he really puts his mind to it?

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