Ishmael is the narrator's gorilla mentor. He provides most of the novel's ideas through their Socratic dialogue, communicated telepathically.
Born in West Africa, Ishmael was stolen by poachers and sold to a North American zoo, where he lived until Walter Sokolow purchased him and allowed him to educate himself. He now passes along his understanding of humanity and culture to pupils, of whom the narrator is his final one.
The unnamed narrator is a middle-aged white American man who learns the truth about humanity and civilization from the gorilla Ishmael. Having always felt something was wrong with the world, the narrator is an idealist who begrudgingly seeks out Ishmael, but who is changed by the lessons he learns there.
Walter Sokolow is the wealthy Jewish merchant who purchases Ishmael from the menagerie. A Holocaust survivor, he finds kinship with the gorilla, and ultimately allows Ishmael to educate himself after discovering the animal's intelligence and ability to communicate telepathically. He dies before the novel begins.
He marries Mrs. Sokolow, and is father to Rachel Sokolow.
Rachel is Walter Sokolow’s daughter. Her childhood was enhanced by a relationship with Ishmael, and she continues to act as his benefactor after her father's death. When she passes away towards the novel's end, Ishmael is sold to a carnival.
Mrs. Sokolow is the woman that Walter Sokolow marries after he has already adopted Ishmael. Though she resents the relationship that Walter and their daughter Rachel have with the gorilla, her family protects Ishmael until after Rachel's death. She is presumably the person who allows him to be sold to the carnival towards novel's end.
Mother Culture is a personified concept that Ishmael uses to explain how the Takers perpetually enact the story that claims man is the apex of evolution and rulers of the world. In Ishmael's construction, Mother Culture communicates this story through every cultural institution, including education, entertainment, and law.
Mr. Partridge is the Sokolow family butler.
Art Owens is the owner of the carnival to which Ishmael is sold towards the end of the novel. The narrator bargains with Owens about buying the gorilla, but never gets the chance to finalize the deal.
The carnival caretaker is the man whom the narrator bribes to ensure private access to Ishmael in the novel's final chapters.
Ishmael Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Ishmael is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Ishmael repeats that the agricultural revolution was more than just a technological event - it was also a philosophical one. Mother Culture teaches that human life was meaningless and ugly before the revolution, and the narrator agrees that most...
After some thought, the narrator figures out that those who live in the hands of the gods continue to evolve, while the Takers do not. Man became man by living in the hands of the gods, evolving from Australopithecus to Homo sapiens sapiens, but...
The law is “you may compete but you may not wage war” (129). This law promotes diversity because it allows millions of species to co-exist, and diversity is important because it allows the overall community of life to weather extreme climate...