"Gryphon" by Charles Baxter

Project By : Jennifer Lohmeyer

Essay: Do you think Wayne was right to tell on Miss Ferenczi?

In the short story “Gryphon” by Charles Baxter, a group of fourth grade students get a substitute teacher because their regular teacher Mr. Hibler gets sick. Miss Ferenczi, the substitute teacher, easily entertains the students; however, she does so in a way that makes the reader question her ethics as she tells substitute facts, or information that is not completely accurate. In the beginning, the students seem to struggle with how they should respond to the unusual substitute teacher. Eventually, one student named Wayne tells the principal about the questionable behavior of the substitute teacher.

Some people might think that the substitute teacher Miss Ferenczi does a good job with the students because she keeps their attention, teaches them some correct information, and does not really harm anyone. When asked about saying the pledge, for example, Miss Ferenczi decides to tell the students they do not need to spend time reciting the pledge because they must already know it really well, so she easily has their attention from the beginning because of the unique way that she handles the pledge. She also tells them that angels are underneath the clouds on Venus and that she saw a gryphon while in Egypt. Even though Venus has clouds, she makes up the part about the angels. Even if Miss Ferenczi did go to Egypt, she did not see a living gryphon because they do not exist. Therefore, she does teach the students some correct information; she just mixes it with incorrect information to make it sound more interesting which some people would view as okay behavior for a substitute teacher.

Nevertheless, the substitute teacher Miss Ferenczi, and any other teachers who tell students incorrect information, should not be allowed to work with students because students go to school to learn and usually look up to their teachers. In the story “Gryphon”, Miss Ferenczi not only spends time working on tasks other than what the regular teacher assigned, but she also misinforms the students. This teaches students that it is okay not to follow directions, which is not correct. The students also wonder if all of the information she is telling them is correct and actually believe the incorrect information along with the correct information, which can have a negative long-term effect if the students confuse “substitute facts” with real facts. For example, she tells them that six times eleven is sixty-eight in higher math, and she tells them that Beethoven was not really deaf, that he only made people think he was so that he could gain more fame. She also tells them about a meat eating plant, which is partially correct in her description, and she makes them think that she really did see a gryphon. One student named Tommy looked up a gryphon and sees it defined as a “fabulous beast.” He thinks that fabulous means great and then thinks that Miss Ferenczi really must have seen a gryphon. This proves that the students have difficulty separating her facts from her fiction, which makes the situation not beneficial for students who need to learn facts.

Miss Ferenczi also should not be allowed to function as the students’ substitute teacher because the students view her as a type of role model, and she does not set a good example. In the story, one student named Carl asks the narrator if he thinks Miss Ferenczi told them a lie about the half lion and half bird or the gryphon. The student narrator replies with, “It could happen…’I had to improvise...’ I read in this … this mad scientist in the Swiss Alps, and he’s been putting genes and chromosomes and stuff together in test tubes, and he combined a human being and a hamster.” This shows that the student narrator now wonders if it is okay to purposefully tell incorrect information, because he views the substitute as a role model.

The student Wayne definitely made the right choice when he decided to tell on the substitute Miss Ferenczi to the principal. Wayne most likely feels that he has no other choice because Miss Ferenczi tells him that he will die when telling the students their fortunes form a deck of taro cards. While Miss Ferenczi probably has good intentions in telling the students substitute facts, or half truths mixed with half lies, as evidenced by her reasoning that it does not hurt anyone, she is setting a bad example for the students who are copying her actions and confusing the students who want to believe her stories.

Photo Source: www.creativecommons.org

Interview with the Author of "Gryphon": Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter has written multiple books and short stories. To view a video of an interview with the author Charles Baxter himself, click on the image below. In this interview, he tells how to write a good story. He states that is it not stereotypical characters who always have everything going the way they are expected to go (just like in the story "Gryphon" when the students get a very unexpected substitute teacher).

Source: www.youtube.com

Interview with Author Charles Baxter '69

Commonly Asked Questions about "Gryphon": Answers from Author Charles Baxter

To view a list of commonly asked questions about the story, including responses from the author Charles Baxter, click on the link below: http://www.charlesbaxter.com/published_works/gryphon_main.htm

The most interesting question to me that the author answers on this page is about the meaning behind the marionette lines on Miss Ferenczi's face. He makes a connection to Pinocchio being known for telling lies (which is an obvious connection to me), but he also mentions that Pinocchio is half boy and half puppet just like Miss Ferenczi seems like something from some other world that is not entirely human.

Source: http://www.charlesbaxter.com/published_works/gryphon_main.htm

Lights! Camera! Action!

The story "Gryphon" by Charles Baxter was made into a movie! Click on the image below to view a clip of the ending of the film. In the clip, the students do have a teacher who seems unusual to them. However, the clip does not indicate her purposefully giving them incorrect information as facts.

Source: www.youtube.com

Gryphon (1988) ending

"Gryphon" Setting

The story "Gryphon" by Charles Baxter primarily takes place in a fourth grade classroom. A few events happen at a student's house and/or outside of school, but most of the action takes place in the classroom. Without the classroom setting, it would have been difficult for the author to have created the same plot line. I suppose he could have had an adult in a different occupation being dishonest with children, but the classroom is the perfect setting for having multiple children in the audience of the adult who tells substitute facts. Since the classroom setting is so important, I decided to create a 3D interactive floor plan of the fourth grade classroom. I included 25 student desks, a teacher desk, and an aquarium at the back of the room for the class pet. I decided not to include a chalkboard because even though the Miss Ferenczi draws a tree on it and writes a word on it, I thought leaving out the chalkboard would represent something odd about this classroom, just like the oddity of Miss Ferenczi. Click on the link below to zoom and rotate my 3D floor plan of the classroom that you can see one view of below. You can view the class from different angles as well. If, for some reason, the embed link does not work for you in your browser, you can try this link:


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Gryphon (Bird and Lion)

The word "Gryphon" plays an important role in the story. Not only does it represent an animal that is half bird and half lion, it also represents information the students receive that is half fact and half fiction. It can also stand for the substitute teacher who is half good for the students because she does teach them some correct information and half evil because she sets a bad example (through not following the teacher's directions and not telling the truth). In the image below, you can view a visual representation of the word "Gryphon".

Source: www.visuwords.com

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Gryphon: The Legendary Creature

The "Gryphon" is a legendary creature that has been referenced everywhere from ancient Egyptian art to literature throughout time to modern architecture. Click on the image below to learn about the origin of the "Gryphon" and its existence throughout history.

Source: www.youtube.com

Legendary Creatures #01: Gryphon

Beethoven: Referenced in "Gryphon"

In the short story "Gryphon", the substitute teacher states that, "Beethoven...had not been deaf; it was a trick to make himself famous, and it worked." While Beethoven was very famous, many historians agree that Beethoven was actually deaf and lost his hearing over a period of many years. Click on the image below to view a video of ten of Beethoven's compositions. He is still famous today, as you will see when you hear the music.

Source: www.youtube.com

Top 10 Beethoven Masterpieces

Recipe: Miss Ferenczi Stuffed Fig

Since Miss Ferenczi is such an odd individual, I decided to make a recipe card (recipe by Charles Baxter) for Miss Ferenczi stuffed fig (which is what she was eating for lunch one day in the story).

Ingredients include:

1 tablespoon of ambition

1 teaspoon of honesty

1 teaspoon of lies

1 cup of oddity

1 dash of humor

Directions include:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a bowl mix 1 tablespoon of ambition so that Miss Ferenczi will not always follow the teacher's lesson plans.

3. Then add in 1 teaspoon of honesty and 1 teaspoon of lies so that Miss Ferenczi will always tell the students half truth and half lie.

4. Then beat in 1 cup of oddity so that she will seem really strange like she is from "Mars".

5. Add a dash of humor so you can laugh at some of the things she says.

6. Pour ingredients into a cupcake pan and place pan in oven to bake for 45 minutes. If you overbake, then Miss Forenczi will never realize why the truth is important, and if you do not bake long enough, then her story will not quite be complete.

-Makes 25 cupcakes (enough for a class of students).

I am including a copy of the recipe card below in case if you would like to print it and use it as a bookmark.

Recipe Card Created at: http://www.skiptomylou.org/recipe-card-maker/

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