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Last Updated on September 27, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555


The short story's narrator, Tommy, is a boy in Mr. Hibler’s fourth-grade class. He writes from a child's perspective; however, the narrative occasionally indicates that he is telling the story in retrospect, recalling the events of his childhood as an adult.

Growing up in the small town of Five Oaks, Michigan, Tommy has little experience with unconventional thoughts or people. So, the arrival of the wacky Miss Ferenczi throws his world into chaos. Indeed, he finds her unique perspective compelling and is quickly inspired to embrace her sense of wonder and interest in the curious world around her. Tommy is a curious child who seeks to ascertain the truth of Miss Ferenczi’s stories. After her first visit, he begins to track the sun's daily movement on his classroom wall and uses a dictionary to determine if gryphons are real, as the substitute teacher had claimed. He is deeply taken by her worldview and adopts much of it himself.

Miss Ferenczi

An eccentric woman enamored with the fantastic and, often, untrue “secrets” of the world, Miss Ferenczi appears in the town of Five Oaks, Michigan, from out of town. She works as a substitute teacher, though her unconventional methods soon lead to her firing. Unlike the usual substitute teachers in every way, Miss Ferenczi subverts all expectations, leaving her fourth-grade class in quiet shock. 

Originally from Flanders, Michigan, Miss Ferenczi is a unique character whose tall tales meld fact and fiction into a confusing web of half-truths. She rejects many conventional ways of thinking about the world and believes that even the most basic truths about human existence, such as the nature of death and the certainty of mathematical equations, are open to interpretation and questioning. Subjectivity reigns and she rejects objective truth entirely. Although Tommy finds her ideas compelling, not all of the students are as taken with her as he is. 


Another student in Mr. Hibler’s fourth-grade class, Carl, shares the same bus as Tommy. Unlike Tommy, Carl views Miss Ferenczi with skepticism and argues that she is a liar. However, she later tells the class about a man-eating plant, a phenomenon he had read about before, his viewpoint is shattered, and he begins to question whether she is entirely wrong. According to Tommy, Carl suffers from chronic bad breath and owns a “huge collection of marbles.” 


Wayne is yet another student in Mr. Hibler’s class. When Miss Ferenczi decides to read the students’ fortunes, he receives the Death card. Although she is quick to comfort him and discounts its implications, he is still hurt by the reading. Frightened, he reports her to the principal, and she is sent away. Tommy is furious about Wayne’s smugness over her dismissal and calls Wayne a "chicken," leading the two boys to fight.

Mr. Hibler

Mr. Hibler is a fourth-grade teacher at an elementary school in Five Oaks. He acts as a foil to the eccentric Miss Ferenczi, as his teaching style is a model of mundanity. The story unfolds in response to his absence, as his propensity for illness necessitates a substitute teacher. He is a rather ordinary man who comports his class conventionally, requires his students to recite the Pledge of the Allegiance every morning, teaches only by the book, and prizes ordinary knowledge above all else. 

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