Short Analysis on Killing Mr. Griffin
Lois Duncan’s Killing Mr. Griffin (1978) is a suspense novel about a few high school students' involvement in the death of their English teacher. The novel includes violence, murder, drugs, and other dark themes that were questionable in 1978. The book’s controversial premise made it a banned piece of literature in California during the 1980s. Alternatively, Killing Mr. Griffin (1978) also won awards, such as the 1982 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award and the 1982-1983 Alabama Camellia Children’s Choice Book Award. Killing Mr. Griffin (1978) explored the minds of teenagers, especially those with psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies, by creating a scenario that challenged the characters’ morality and values.
Exploring a Mentally-Disturbed Mind
Killing Mr. Griffin (1978) centers around high school students Mark Kinney, David Ruggles, Jeff Garrett, Betsy Cline, and Susan McConnell. As the novel’s title suggests, these students ended up killing their strict English teacher , Mr. Griffin. Initially, the students planned to kidnap and scare their teacher as revenge. However, because Mr. Griffin was not able to take his medication on time because of the kidnapping, he died during the process. The mastermind of the kidnapping was Mark Kinney and he was also responsible for hiding the truth about their teacher’s death.
Mark is one of the main characters in the novel and eventually transitions to becoming the main antagonist. The novel portrayed him as a charismatic student that can persuade anyone to agree with him. According to Drew, Duncan based Mark’s character on her daughter’s horrible first boyfriend (112). Duncan described the boy as a charismatic individual but had a psychopathic tendency, such as swerving to hit a dog. Duncan wanted to explore the mind of a psychopathic teenager through her novel and Mark was the main subject of her exploration.
As mentioned earlier, Mark was responsible for the kidnapping and the cover-up of the crime. He persuaded his classmates to commit kidnapping as a form of revenge. By making Mark an effective persuader, Duncan embodied the charisma that many psychopathic and sociopathic cult leaders possess. Extreme charisma is a common trait for these types of individuals and Duncan confirmed that Mark was one of them (Lyga). She showcased the extent of this dangerous trait through Mark’s persuasion of Susan. Susan is a high-achiever who is overly conscious about her academic standing. Kidnapping a teacher is a crime and something that she would not do. However, Mark’s charisma won over Susan and persuaded her not only to help in the kidnapping but also to cover up the crime. During the later parts of the novel, Susan even went to Mark when David revealed that her grandmother took Mr. Griffin’s ring. This showed that Susan trusted Mark and saw him as a dependable individual.
Value of Accountability
Killing Mr. Griffin (1978) is about hiding a crime and running away from accountability. Taking responsibility for one’s actions is a common theme in many of Duncan’s books, including Mr. Griffin (Drew 112). The whole novel was about covering up the murder and ensuring that there are no pieces of evidence that can link the students to Mr. Griffin’s death. Despite their attempts, a missed piece of evidence eventually connected them with the crime. There was also Susan’s impending guilt which had her considering confessing. Duncan, perhaps, wanted to show the value of accountability by letting Susan off with no charges in exchange for her confession and testimony. There are also the charges for the other students, especially Mark’s; which included two murder charges and one attempted murder against Susan. The novel showcased that taking responsibility for one’s actions can give a sense of relief while avoiding it will result in retribution.
Peer pressure is a common topic when talking about teenage behaviors. In Killing Mr. Griffin, readers can quickly recognize the theme of peer pressure as Mark persuaded his classmates to commit a crime. According to Duncan, peer pressure may be the major cause of trouble for teenagers since the reasoning part of their brains is still underdeveloped, making them susceptible to peer pressure (qtd. in Lyga). In the novel, Mark became the source of the “pressure” as he utilized his persuasion skills to gain crime accomplices. Also, the fact that the novel used a group of students showcases that peer pressure is stronger among large groups since an individual will be more inclined to fit in with the majority. This is perhaps one of the reasons for Susan’s decision to become an accomplice in the kidnapping. Despite her reservations, Mark’s persuasion and her spite towards Mr. Griffin made her a victim of peer pressure.
Killing Mr. Griffin (1978) illustrated how teenagers approach the concepts of accountability and peer pressure when they are in the company of a mentally-disturbed individual. Avoiding responsibility and peer pressure are common problems in a teenager’s life, and are often harmless. However, Duncan challenged these ideas by introducing a factor that leads the student to commit crimes. Duncan expressed the dangers of seemingly harmless behaviors by manifesting them to the extreme, making readers contemplate the risks of teenage life.
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Drew, Bernard. “The 100 Most Popular Young Adult Authors.” Libraries Unlimited, 1997, p.112. https://archive.org/details/100mostpopularyo00drew_1/page/112/mode/2up
Duncan, Lois. Killing Mr. Griffin. Revised pbk. ed. New York, Little, Brown, 2010.
Johnson, Carley. ‘Lois Duncan, “Killing Mr. Griffin”.’ The Banned Books Project. 12 September 2019. https://bannedbooks.library.cmu.edu/killing-mr-griffin-lois-duncan/
Lyga, Barry. “Q&A With The Author: Killing Mr. Griffin.” web.archive.org. n.d. https://web.archive.org/web/20161221162226/http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/_assets/busresources/Duncan_Interview_3.pdf