By analyzing the Killing Mr Griffin characters, students will better understand motivation and be able to grasp at the tangled web of choices a writer must make for their characters in order to write a suspenseful, intriguing novel.
Major Characters and Analysis
Susan is a lonely girl who dreams of having acceptance and popularity in high school, and yet she lives in the day dreams of her mind, always telling herself that someday things will be different, someday she’ll live alone, isolated, happy. She’s intelligent, the only junior in a senior English class. Initially, she is easily manipulated because David, the object of her affection, asks for her help. However, Susan soon sees the situation with Mr. Griffin in a new light. It is this new awareness that drives Susan to help others become aware that perhaps they’ve done something very wrong.
Mark is a mysterious, multi-layered character. His deceptive appearance allows one to think he is half asleep and not paying attention, but he sees everything. Cool and calm, he manipulates people and situations by constantly observing for weaknesses. Mark’s motivation is revenge for the public humiliation he had to endure at the hands of Mr. Griffin. When others try to interfere with this revenge, Mark takes matters beyond manipulation and proceeds to destroy whoever stands in his way.
David is a responsible, scholarly young man with big dreams of one day becoming a lawyer. While he loves his mother and grandmother, he can feel the pressure from his mother to become successful for the sake of his family. He is torn by this knowledge that he must be successful and an overwhelming desire to be free from responsibility. When he sees a chance at this happiness by joining Mark’s plan, he jumps without considering the consequences. David wants to do the right thing, but his personal turmoil makes him weak and indecisive.
Strict with his students, Mr. Griffin is a perfectionist when it comes to their work. He doesn’t take excuses. He’s aware of his abrasive personality, but popularity doesn’t matter to him. He truly cares for his students, but not in a way that is immediately recognizable to them.
Jeff’s anger is the driving force behind the plan to kidnap Mr. Griffin. His temper has gotten him into trouble in the classroom before, which leads to his embarrassment. His world revolves around the basketball court, the only place where he can maintain some control. Off the court, his is mystified by Mark’s hold on him, but because Mark can control himself and other, Jeff goes along with what his best friends asks of him.
She’s not the prettiest girl in the school, but Betsy Cline has a way with people that gets her noticed and makes her popular. She’s the head cheerleader, homecoming queen, and teacher’s pet. At home, she’s the only child to a single parent, so she’s used to getting her way. The one thing she can’t get, though, is Mark’s attention. She refuses to leave Mr. Griffin’s class or break up with Jeff just so she can be close to Mark. And since she is persistent about having her own way, she will do whatever it takes to win Mark’s affection.
Mrs. Kathy Griffin
Stubborn about her convictions, Kathy knew she’d marry Brian Griffin, even if they were total opposites and his education surpassed her own. She loves her husband, but she feels sorry for his students at times because as a one-time mediocre high school student, she sees herself in them. She fears that her husband will try to force their unborn child to be perfect, that he will not accept him for who he is. When her husband goes missing, Kathy Griffin refuses to believe her husband could have been cheating on her and she sets out to prove his innocence and learn the truth about his disappearance.
Irma ‘Grandmother’ Ruggles
Irma Ruggles isn’t as weak as she claims to be. She appears to sit at home all day watching game shows and the neighbor lady through the adjacent window, but she’s fully capable of wandering about the house or down the street for a candy or magazine. She speaks her mind and insists that she can see the world around her clearly, and yet she wants people to feel sorry for her because she’s old. Her ability to prod into other people’s business and get under their skin is her weakness and her downfall.
Abandoned by her husband years ago, Mrs. Ruggles must work hard to make ends meet in her family. According to her minister, she’s an angel of a woman because she opened her home to her mother-in-law, but she has not forgotten the pain that was inflicted by her husband. She constantly must remind David of his destiny, his future role as the breadwinner of the family. Mrs. Ruggles believes her acceptance of her own responsibilities should transcend to her son.
Other characters in the novel included Detective James Baca, Lana, Mr. and Mrs. McConnell, John and Paula Garrett, and Dolly Luna.
A few ideas for utilizing this character analysis include:
- Ask students to identify which characters change within the course of the novel. Students can work in groups, each group either tackling assigned chapters or discussing one character throughout the course of the novel. Track the changes with a graphic organizer, like a flow chart or a web.
- Take this analysis a step further and identify the conflicts within the story that caused characters to change. Were all of these conflicts resolved? In groups, focus on the problems. Which were the turning points in the story? Which characters were affected the most by these conflicts?
- Compare and contrast characters using a Venn diagram. Take this activity one step further by including a protagonist from another novel or even a movie.
- Do individual characters or a collection of characters represent a particular theme in the story? If students completed any other character analysis activities, then they are aware of the choices characters made within the novel. Use this prompt to set out different stations around the classroom. At each station, write a theme on a sheet of paper and place it on the board or at a group. Time the students and ask them to identify which characters relate to each theme. When each group has gone through each station, compare answers and search for patterns. What type of graphic organizer would best represent this information?
With the completion of a novel comes the time to reflect on the story. Analyze Killing Mr. Griffin characters and reflect on any additional conclusions which can be created about this intriguing novel.
Duncan, Lois. Killing Mr. Griffin. Dell Laurel-Leaf: New York. 1978.