Frindle

by

Andrew Clements

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Frindle: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Nick has a pit in his stomach by lunch the next day. He knows he'll have to stand up in front of Mrs. Granger, and he knows she'll have her eyes turned up all the way. Nick anxiously reads over his notes and wonders if his grand plan is actually all that great. Seventh period comes way too fast. Mrs. Granger invites Nick to the front of the room immediately and takes a seat on a stool, while Nick stands next to the giant dictionary. Nick begins his presentation, but Mrs. Granger interrupts him to ask for a title. He looks her in the eye and makes one up on the spot.
By placing Nick in proximity to the massive dictionary and moving Mrs. Granger away from it, the novel shows that for the duration of Nick's presentation, he's in control. Remember that at this point the dictionary is a symbol for power and rules, so by being closer to it, Nick is the one who gets to borrow power from the dictionary.
Themes
Language Theme Icon
Power, Hierarchy, and Rules Theme Icon
Nick talks about Samuel Johnson, who created the first modern English dictionary in the 1700s. Kids are in awe when Nick says that his dictionary had more than 43,000 words in it. Nick expects Mrs. Granger to look disapproving, but she looks almost friendly and encourages him on. Nick goes on for twelve minutes and Mrs. Granger laps it all up. When Nick notices Mrs. Granger looking at her watch after eighteen minutes, Nick moves on to phase two.
The fact that Nick can go on for eighteen minutes calls into question whether or not he actually understands all of what he's talking about, but it does show how he's figured out how to turn the power structure upside down. While Mrs. Granger thinks at first that he's following instructions, he's actually just wasting time.
Themes
Power, Hierarchy, and Rules Theme Icon
Nick pulls his homework dictionary out of his bag and explains that there's a lot of information in the front of it about how dictionaries are made. Mrs. Granger interrupts and insists that the class can read it at home, but when several kids protest that they have a different edition, Mrs. Granger allows Nick to read from the dictionary. The students do their best to look fascinated even though they don't actually care about the report—they all know that this report is a stellar diversion. Mrs. Granger also seems aware of this and her eyes seem to burn holes in Nick and the chalkboard, but she allows him to read until there are only ten minutes left in the period.
Remember that Nick could hardly understand the introduction when he tried to read it at home. It's likely that that hasn't changed, which reinforces that this is just a way for him to gain power over Mrs. Granger by pretending to be more of an expert than he actually is. When the rest of the class feigns interest, it again shows that they understand that their participation in Nick's diversion is absolutely necessary for this to work.
Themes
Language Theme Icon
Power, Hierarchy, and Rules Theme Icon
Leadership and Teamwork Theme Icon
Finally, Mrs. Granger cuts Nick off. She compliments him on his report and says that the information will mean more to him since he researched it himself. Nick sinks in his chair, thinking that Mrs. Granger is treating him like the teacher's pet and putting his reputation in danger. He raises his hand and insists he still doesn't understand why words mean different things, and who decides what words mean. Mrs. Granger explains that Nick and everyone else who speaks English decides what words mean. She says that if everyone decided to use a different word for something, that new word would one day end up in the dictionary.
Mrs. Granger introduces the idea that language is something communal and fundamentally democratic, not just an arbitrary system passed down for generations. This casts language as something that's alive and constantly changing as people come up with new ways to communicate with each other. Notably, however, she still recognizes that there is a power structure: in order for a word to be real, it has to make it into the dictionary.
Themes
Language Theme Icon
Power, Hierarchy, and Rules Theme Icon
Leadership and Teamwork Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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With a smile, Mrs. Granger says that despite the fact that language can change, the dictionary is the law and words only get in for good reasons. She looks at the clock and with eight minutes left in the period, she squeezes in an entire day's worth of work. Nick doesn't try to stop her.
By insisting that the dictionary is the law, Mrs. Granger actually shows that she does believe that laws are a communal effort—that is, after all, how a word becomes popular enough to get into the dictionary.
Themes
Language Theme Icon
Leadership and Teamwork Theme Icon