Frindle

by

Andrew Clements

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Frindle: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Mrs. Chatham calls Mr. Allen and Mrs. Allen on October first to set up the meeting, she asks that Nick be there as well. Nick answers the door when she arrives that evening and greets her brightly. Mrs. Chatham doesn't smile back. He leads her to the living room and they all settle in. Mrs. Chatham tells her version of events: Nick encouraged other kids to use "frindle," Mrs. Granger forbade it, the word ruined the class photo, and now, everyone feels that kids aren't respecting rules anymore.
Mrs. Chatham's sense that there's a revolt underfoot betrays how precarious the organized education system's power can be, since a bunch of fifth graders and a funny word are making her feel threatened. By insisting that Nick started things, Mrs. Chatham also attempts to play down the role of the group and single out Nick as an easy target for punishment.
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Mr. Allen looks embarrassed, but Nick thinks Mrs. Allen looks annoyed. When Mrs. Chatham is finished, Mrs. Allen says that it all sounds pretty silly. She suggests that there's no harm in kids making up a funny word and using it. Nick is ecstatic that his mom is annoyed with Mrs. Granger, not with him, but Mrs. Chatham says that it's a matter of standards. She explains that it's the same reason why they don't allow the children to use "ain't," and the true issue is that the kids aren't respecting authority.
Mrs. Chatham's reasoning shows that her true objective is to teach students to obey organized systems of power, whether that be the formal education system that gives teachers control over their students or racial and class systems that associate "ain't" with poverty (as in Charles Dickens' novels) or dialects spoken by African-Americans.
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Mr. Allen expresses agreement with Mrs. Chatham's reasoning, but Nick speaks up and notes that even "ain't" is in the dictionary; if a word is in the dictionary, he says, he should be able to use it. This stumps the adults. Mrs. Chatham tries to backpedal, but Mrs. Allen insists that Mrs. Granger is overreacting to a "harmless little experiment with language." She asks Mr. Allen if he agrees in a tone that makes it clear she expects him to agree. He stares off into the distance.
It's important to note that plenty of people do use "ain't"; it's simply not a word that's considered proper. The racial and class connotations of "ain't" aside, this does show Nick that plenty of words his teachers don't want him to use are in the dictionary. If the dictionary confers a sense of linguistic authority, then "frindle" can be a real word as well if it gets in.
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Nick begins to think of the whole thing as a chess game. Mrs. Chatham is Mrs. Granger's queen, while Mrs. Allen is Nick's queen. Nick knows that the war will go on until there's a clear winner. The adults discuss children's right to explore and experiment but, finally, Mrs. Chatham leaves.
The discussion of whether kids have the right to explore begins to expand Frindle's scope and bring in the idea that what Nick is doing isn't just about school; it's about what his rights are as an American citizen.
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Mr. Allen and Mrs. Allen talk to Nick after Mrs. Chatham leaves. Nick explains that he didn't intend to be disrespectful, but all the kids like to use his word and Mrs. Granger made it even more fun to use by punishing them for saying it. Mr. Allen asks Nick to tell his classmates to stop using it, but Nick insists he can't. He says it's no longer just his word since everyone else likes it so much.
Nick's comment that "frindle" isn't only his word anymore speaks to the communal nature of language: now that it's become part of Lincoln Elementary students' vocabulary, it's no longer something that a single person—not Nick nor Mrs. Granger—can control or stop.
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