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Substitute Ideas

What separates adults from children? Don’t think of the obvious, age or height. Be creative. What do most adults lose the ability to do? We stop imagining and exploring unusual possibilities. All too often adults are tied down by rules; rules of probability, of logic or fact. Remember when you were a kid? Anything was possible, rules of logic didn’t apply, didn’t confine you and if you found an adult who was able to dream with you or even shock you with their perspectives of fact, then you had found a hero. In Charles Baxter’s short story “Gryphon” Mr. Hibler’s fourth grade class finds such an adult; the substitute, Miss Ferenczi. Not every student chooses to see Miss Ferenczi as a hero, but Tommy does. As a substitute teacher Miss Ferenczi intrigues, encourages and dares Tommy to stretch his mind and think for himself. Before we can understand Tommy’s fascination with Miss Ferenczi, we must know who Tommy is. Where does he come from? What forces shape his world? Tommy is nine years old. He has been raised in a small town where everyone knows each other. Tommy knows this town inside and out. When riding on the bus Tommy sees no surprises; he knows “every barn, every broken windmill, every fence, every ammonia tank, by heart” (103). Life is very predictable. In fact, life is so predictable that when Mr. Hibler becomes ill, the class knows that the substitute teacher would come from “a pool of about four mothers.” (6). Every aspect of life in Five Oaks, Michigan (6) was conventional, expected and truly boring.Therefore Tommy is intrigued when a stranger enters the classroom and introduces herself as the substitute (13). Tommy observes Miss Ferenczi as she whimsically draws a tree on the black board (8), he listens to his fellow classmates as she is declared to be an alien of some sort (10) and he is slowly pulled into Miss Ferenczi’s worl...

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