Strict and terrifying teachers is a well-known source of distress for students. They tend to drift away from those teachers due to fear of criticism and such. Because of those teachers, some students are motivated to do better, some become extremely frustrated, some are fidgeting because they feel like their teacher does not like them. In her novel Killing Mr. Griffin, Lois Duncan illustrates the extreme measures a band of high school students take to exact revenge on a teacher they dislike.
Killing Mr. Griffin: Summary
Killing Mr. Griffin, despite its horrendous theme, has won several awards in the children’s category within 5 years after it was published and was even adapted into a movie in the late 90s. Killing Mr. Griffin is a banned book in some parts of the United States because it features extreme violence, smoking, drinking and drug use, peer pressure, and lying to authorities. Killing Mr. Griffin sheds light on the pressures that are placed by both adults and peers on teenagers which may cause destructive behaviors.
Killing Mr. Griffin is an incredibly suspenseful novel that revolves around a group of high school students and their teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mr. Griffin was disliked by his students because he was such a perfectionist, was unfair, overly critical, and only gives bad grades. Mr. Griffin can be described as a terrifying teacher because not only are the students tormented in class, they are also in constant anxiety because they are not sure if they will be able to pass.
The main protagonist, Susan McConnell, was a straight A student. She was known to be a loner who mostly stays home with her nose in the books. She works hard at her studies and usually has no trouble with her teachers. Mr. Griffin is an exception, which somehow proves that the other students are not just complaining about nothing. If a straight A student is struggling in class, of course the others are struggling, too.
Mark Kinney, on the other hand, is the opposite of Susan. He has already failed Mr. Griffin's class once. Mark's face is one that seldom changes expression, but his eyes become very bright and shines when he has an idea. It is exacly the look he has on his face when he comes up with the demented idea to kill Mr. Griffin after a classmate jokingly said that Mr. Griffin is the type of person one would be tempted to kill.
There are a number of other characters in this Killing Mr. Griffin who plays a big part in the story. David Ruggles, handsome, popular and class president of the senior class, is in on the conspiracy. Though it is not his idea, for some reason he allows himself to be persuaded by Mark into joining the gang. This so-called gang includes Mark, Betsy Cline, Jeff Garrett, and Susan McConnell who surprisingly had also been easily persuaded by Mark.
Betsy, who is the head cheerleader and to everyone the most popular girl in school, doesn't care much for Mr. Griffin. She only decided to join Mark in his plan in hopes that he will eventually go out with her. Jeff is the star of the varsity basketball with basketball being his life. He has been good friends with Mark since he first met him. He does almost anything Mark wants because he is easily persuaded.
The major conflict is between the five troubled teenagers and their attempts to keep Mr. Griffin's death a secret. The original plan was only to kidnap Mr. Griffin to teach him a lesson. What the students did not know was that Mr. Griffin has been taking prescription medicine at a specific time due to a health complication. As he was unable to take his medication, he died, suffering. The group was shocked when they found Mr. Griffin then Mark had convinced all of them to cover up Mr. Griffin’s death.
After disposing of his body in an unknown area in the middle of nowhere, they take his credit cards and send them to a man Mark knows who lives far away. They figure that if every month a bill comes to Mrs. Griffin, people will assume he has just run off with some other woman. They also try to throw off the police by making Susan, who is was the last to see him at a conference before he disappeared, make up a story about him being impatient throughout the meeting and then seeing him with another woman.
The turning point of the novel is when Mark Kinney's ex-girlfriend finds Mr. Griffin's prescription medicine in an old picnic spot known only to her and Mike. Sue finally breaks down and decides to tell the police about what she discovered. She endangers her own life and the lives of others by letting Mark Kinney know what she was planning to do. In the end, Mark, was been separated from Jeff, Betsy, and David and must face three trials, one for each of his crimes.
In Killing Mr. Griffin, Lois Duncan wants to convey that people who are strict and have the highest expectations for you are the ones who most likely recognizes your potential and wants to shape you to be a better person. Therefore, one should not try to force people with high standards to fit theirs. Instead, a person should try to raise their own standards to match or even exceed those with high expectations.
Lois Duncan did a good job in portraying how a simple challenge for a student can take a wild turn if one makes the wrong choice in choosing which path to take. The students, in particular Mark, even if he had changed his mind about killing Mr. Griffin, what they chose to do could not be considered as the right thing. Obviously, committing crimes is not the best way to solve a problem with a teacher.
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Duncan, Lois. Killing Mr. Griffin, Little, Brown, and Company, 1978.