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Greg’s history teacher announces that they will have a substitute, and Greg considers it the perfect opportunity to play a trick and become Class Clown. However, his plan is foiled when his own mother shows up to substitute. Rowley becomes the new cartoonist for the school paper, and “Zoo-Wee Mama!” makes him popular. When Greg confronts Rowley about stealing his idea, the former friends argue and nearly fight on the playground, egged on by other kids. When the teenagers from Halloween show up, the other kids run away, and the teenagers grab Greg and Rowley. They make Rowley eat the infamous cheese from the basketball court, only making Greg touch it beforehand because he tells them he is allergic to dairy. The next day, when someone notices that the cheese is gone, Greg says he ate it, even though he knows he will be ostracized for having the Cheese Touch.
Greg’s mother’s serving as a substitute teacher at Greg’s school brings his home and school worlds together in a way that puts him on the spot and forces him to face his true self. Greg’s embarrassment over his mother’s role as the class’s substitute teacher illustrates that he sees school as a place for him to create his own image independent of reality. Throughout the novel, Greg shows that he still needs his mom’s encouragement and support, but he wants that attention far away from his peers. At school, he tests the waters of independence. His mom’s role as substitute teacher foils his plans of being the class clown, and once again, Greg’s shortcut to popularity fails to take him there. Her presence in the school also makes him a bigger target for further ridicule and bullying. Again, Greg’s mother’s role is something he has no control over, a comment on the uncontrollability of becoming a target.
In “Zoo-Wee Mama!,” Greg finally finds something he enjoys and does well, but to Greg, success without appreciation and popularity is useless. Greg’s anger over Rowley’s newfound popularity and his stealing of the idea demonstrates that Greg still obsesses over social status above everything else. He still can’t be happy for his friend. Greg and Rowley’s fight symbolizes the peer pressure typical of middle schools and how it can destroy friendships. The bullying cycle continues. The bullies in this chapter use their size to intimidate and humiliate Rowley and Greg, and if they succeed, Rowley will be a social outcast. Readers get a glimpse of Greg’s maturity when he protects Rowley and says he touched the cheese. In a climactic demonstration of Greg’s budding ability to put others first, he puts Rowley’s reputation and safety above his own, marking the first time Greg prioritizes another person’s feelings over his own.