The story The One and Only Ivan is told by Ivan the gorilla. He is a limited and subjective first-person narrator. The reader has an insight into his feelings and thoughts. This leads to empathy for Ivan and the animals who share his destiny. The reader realizes how animals in captivity are lonely and depressed. The reader’s perspective changes because he sees his ordinary world through the eyes of another living being which, unlike humans, does not take things for granted. It is normal for humans to watch animals in cages, for example in the zoo, aquarium, shopping malls or even at home. Ivan describes how it is from the other point of view, the other side of the cage: ‘My life is flashing lights and pointing fingers and uninvited visitors. Inches away, humans flatten their little hands against the wall of glass that separates us’ (Applegate 14). Even the idea of shopping malls and money seems unreal and stupid when people try to see it through the eyes of a gorilla: ‘[…] humans scurry from store to store. They pass their green paper, dry as old leaves and smelling of a thousand hands, back and forth and back again. […] Then they leave, clutching bags filled with things- bright things, soft things, big things- but no matter how full the bags are, they always come back for more’ (13).
While reading through the story you begin to question humanity after realizing how cruel human nature can be when money is involved. The value of animal life seems forgotten. When Ruby arrives, Mack’s describes her as ‘six hundred pounds of fun to save our sorry butts’ (69), which shows that material wealth and economic survival are more important than the wellbeing of animals.
Ivan is a narrator you can trust and you believe everything he tells in his story. He is straightforward and he does not embellish the truth. Being an animal, Ivan doesn’t seem to have anything to hide or any reason to distort the facts as he sees them. His honesty may also result from the fact that he simply describes what he sees rather than attempting to interpret it, which is reflected in his simplistic language. Especially this becomes clear when we look at the way Ivan describes films. In his eyes romance ‘is much hugging and sometimes face licking’ (24) and in Westerns there is always someone who says ‘This town ain’t big enough for the both of us, Sherriff’ and the good guys always win (24).