Charles Baxter's short stories are well-known for the strong presents of ordinary people encountering extraordinary strangers who disturb their lives. “Gryphon” written by Charles Baxter is not an exception. The story is filled with characters that are awaken from their boring lives and transported into a world of possibilities. As a central idea of the story, Baxter's critics often mention “middle America's” conventions, and the effect it has on anyone who does not fit the mold. Within “Gryphon” the reader experiences a few days in the life of fourth grade class; specifically, a few days spent with a unique substitute teacher. The narrative outlines, on many occasions, the unsureness in the face of the unknown. Is the society ready to accept someone who deviates from the limits of the norm?
The title of the story is very significant in the context that follows. Gryphon is a mythical, mysterious creature. The term is almost never used to describe the life of the fourth grade students. In this case, it works perfectly. A cleaver metaphor describes Miss Ferenczi in her role of substitute teacher that this fourth grade class is introduced to. Gryphon is an imaginary creature with the rear body of a lion and an eagle head. The parallel between the substitute teacher and the unreal creation serves a multipurpose metaphor. It is used to portrayed Miss Ferenczi's appearance and her teaching methods. Like a gryphon, Miss Ferenczi is misunderstood, courageous, and intelligent. With a picture like this in mind, it is effortless to see why she would be an outcast.
The outward physical appearance of such a creature is not widely accepted. Miss Ferenczi is depicted as dressed strangely, her hair do is bizarre “done up in chignon”(246) in one day and “twisted into pigtails”(252) the next. She wears “gold-rimmed”(246) tinted glasses, and she carries a purple purse and a checkered lunchbox. Gryphon can be also attributed to her storytelling teaching technique”without glancing at the book she began to talk”(251). Like gryphon itself Miss Ferenczi combines real parts into unreal wholes. She sounds sane in one breath and delusional in the next. An other fascinating fact about the title of the story is the spelling of the word gryphon. It is a variant of griffin,which is more popular way of spelling the term. As if a gryphon was not enough, the author choose to use the least popular version of the spelling as well. This is yet another symbol of how truly different, out-of-this-world Miss Ferenczi really is.
The preliminary settings are as ordinary as they can be. It is a “Wednesday afternoon” (245) boring classroom between a geography class and an art project. It is quite and peaceful in Five Oaks. In the background of a rural community consisted of “unemployed college graduates” and “stay-at-home moms”(246),Miss Ferenczi is a colorful stranger. She is a breath of excitement to the children's dull lives. She presents herself to the class in a very...