Ishmael is the hero of the piece. He does not enter the story for quite a while. But that is an integral part of the story of his life. His mother's marriage was kept secret, and this led to having to suppress it ever happened at all. In turn, this leads Ishmael to have to cope with the social snobbery of his day on what this might imply.
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This story is based on a real man's life. It begins with his boyhood and struggle against incredible odds to make something of himself. The sequel to it is "Self-Raised".