Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Gryphon,” the title of this story, is taken from the name of a fabulous mythological creature with the head and wings of an eagle and body of a lion. It also symbolizes Miss Ferenczi, whom Baxter describes as “half-miracle, half-monster.” In order to make Miss Ferenczi appear simultaneously miraculous and monstrous, Baxter tells the story through the eyes of Tommy, a young boy who is more sensitive than some of his classmates. Although he has no special powers of perception, he is more aware of his surroundings and more inquisitive. He is also one of the most willing to accept Miss Ferenczi’s version of truth. Perhaps because he is more curious about the world, he is more open to new ideas about it.

When Miss Ferenczi appears, the reader sees her through Tommy’s eyes, and notices the same things that a child would notice. The reader, however, is likely to be much older than Tommy and far more sophisticated. When Tommy notices Miss Ferenczi’s purple purse and checkered lunchbox, the reader agrees with him that this indeed is an unusual woman. However, when Tommy mentions that her hair is done up in “what I would learn years later was called a chignon,” and that he has never seen hair done like that before (Tommy’s own mother looks like Betty Crocker), the reader is also made aware of just how limited life in Five Oaks must be.

When Tommy and Carl argue on the bus about the gryphon that Miss Ferenczi claims to have seen,...

(The entire section is 401 words.)