In The One and Only Ivan, what is the importance of the television in Ivan's cage?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Katherine Applegate wrote The One and Only Ivan, a children's book about Ivan, a gorilla who lives in a cage, situated in a downtown mall called The Big Top mall, where there are circus acts daily. At first, he has Stella (an old elephant) and Bob, a stray dog, for company and Julia, the daughter of George, "the weary man" who cleans Ivan's "domain," which eventually Ivan will realize is just a cage. Julia likes to draw and encourages Ivan so, with crayons and paper, he draws apple cores, banana peels and even a beetle. Despite his drawings sometimes looking quite obscure, the mall owner, Mack, sells Ivan's drawings, making $20 or even $25 with a frame. Ivan has lived this way for so long that he has forgotten that he is a wild gorilla and is "four hundred pounds of pure power." According to one little boy who visits the mall, Ivan must be "the loneliest gorilla in the world." Ivan listens to Stella talk about living in a real circus but he does not remember his past, having spent, according to his own estimation, an incredible 27 years living in the mall.

Ivan knows that he is supposed to be a fierce gorilla but, as a Silverback, he would only get aggressive to protect his territory and, because he has no such requirement at the mall, he never even gets angry, despite what the mall owner would like to think. People just come and look at Ivan and then move on. Stella tells Ivan about humans and how they are both cruel and kind and how zoos are places where humans "make amends." 

After Stella dies, Ivan tries to find ways to help Ruby, the baby elephant who arrived just before Stella died and who is subjected to cruel treatment in order to make her comply in the circus shows. He promised Stella he would look after Ruby although he does not have the capacity to do so. There is a TV which he and Bob sometimes watch and, after some time, he is inspired by a TV Western and imagines himself getting rid of "the bad guys" just like the sheriff. When he sees an advertisement on TV for a zoo, he remembers what Stella had told him about zoos and now knows what to do to help Ruby and sets about drawing pictures that he hopes will help expose the problems of their captivity and the cruelty against Ruby.

Eventually, with Julia's help and Bob's encouragement, his efforts begin to pay off. The TV is therefore very significant in giving Ivan the inspiration and the will to keep his promise to Stella. 

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The One and Only Ivan

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