Study Guide

The One and Only Ivan Identity

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Ivan is in one long identity crisis in The One and Only Ivan, confused about who he is because he hasn't really lived the life of a gorilla, and instead spends his days in captivity with little more than an elephant and a dog for company. And what he does know about silverback gorillas, doesn't feel like it quite applies to him since they're all about leadership and pounding their chests, while he prefers to draw and contemplate life.

Even as the book ends, it isn't clear whether Ivan's made peace with who he is. One thing's for certain, though: He's no longer the only gorilla he knows.

Questions About Identity

  1. Why does Ivan divide his life into old and his "new life as a human"? 
  2. Is Ivan truly confused about who he is, or is he just waxing philosophical?
  3. What defines Ivan more: his past or his present self?
  4. Is Ivan doomed, permanently ruined by human interference, or will he ever become the silverback he was born to be?
  5. How does Ivan ever come to understand who he is? 
  6. How do the others—Ruby, Stella, Julia or Mack—support or contradict Ivan's identity?

Chew on This

Ivan claims there is no word for what he is, that he's something in between human and gorilla. And he's right: The things that are natural and unnatural about his life have greatly confused his identity.

Though Ivan's fate is pretty rough at the mall, when it comes down to it, everyone is a product of biology and environment. So in this way, Ivan actually isn't special.

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