Study Guide

The One and Only Ivan Memory and the Past

By Katherine Applegate

Memory and the Past

Humans think gorillas don't have imaginations. They think we don't remember our pasts or ponder our futures. (imagination.91)

Ivan seems proud of his ability to imagine things. Strangely, though, in the next breath he says that he likes to "think about what is, not what could be" (imagination.92). What do you make of this?

"There's a difference," Stella says gently, "between 'can't remember' and 'won't remember.'" (not sleepy.254)

Ivan chooses not to remember his past, and Stella tries to nudge him toward at least admitting that this is the case, instead of him, say, suffering gorilla amnesia.

Not remembering can be difficult, but I've had a lot of time to work on it. (not sleepy.255)

Question: Do you think Ivan actually doesn't remember? Or does he just work really hard not to think about the past?

"Memories are precious. They help tell us who we are." (not sleepy.256)

Stella clings tightly to her memories. They are hers and her alone, which isn't really the case about any other part of her existence.

I never remember my dreams, although sometimes I awake with my fists clenched and my heart hammering. (artists.79)

Again we'll ask: Does Ivan really not remember his past? We think it's tucked in there somewhere in his brain, even if he tries not to let it come out.

I gaze at the huge, shadowy box. And suddenly I understand how Ruby feels. I don't want to go into that box. The last time I was in a box my sister died. (boxes.1261-1262)

Ivan must confront some of his greatest fears to make himself go into the box and leave. He shows great courage here, and it pays off—this box takes him to the zoo. The past and the future, then, bump right up against each other here.

How did we move? How did we touch? How did we know who was boss? (what is was like.1431)

After Ivan is transplanted to the zoo, he realizes that he can't remember what it was like to be a real gorilla. Again he'll have to dig deep into his past—back to the days when he was wild and free—to engage with his new future.

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