Bystander: Book Summary & Characters

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  • 0:05 The Appalling Silence
  • 0:39 Bullies, Bystanders,…
  • 1:47 Characters
  • 2:57 The Bystander Effect
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

In this lesson, we will learn about the story and characters in James Preller's 'Bystander,' a novel about bullying in middle school. We will explore the novel's plot and then get to know its four main characters: Eric, Griffin, David, and Mary.

The Appalling Silence

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke eloquently of 'the appalling silence of the good people.' In Bystander, a 2009 novel, author James Preller brings this notion to life. The novel explores the roles of bully, victim, and bystander, demonstrating what it takes to stand up against unjust persecution.

The four main characters in Bystander, Eric, Griffin, David, and Mary, are 7th graders at Bellport Central Middle School on Long Island in New York. The novel is geared toward readers in grades six through eight, ages 10 and up.

Bullies, Bystanders, and Victims

The novel depicts a case of bullying in middle school in order to impress upon readers that witnesses are complicit in the act. It testifies to the fact that onlookers are just as guilty of the crime as the assailant if they stand by and do nothing. The title refers to the witness who watches from the sidelines but does not act.

Eric, a newcomer to Bellport Central Middle School, makes fast friends with Griffin. But soon, Eric notices a dark streak in his new friend. At first, Eric is a witness to Griffin's indiscretions. Griffin steals and lies. After a time, Eric recognizes that he's no better than Griffin when he just stands by and observes his friend's bad behavior. With the help of his friends and school teachers, Eric learns how to stand up to Griffin, but by taking responsibility, the tables turn to make Eric the victim.

Critics praise Preller's Bystander for its realism. The story evolves naturally, characters act un-selfconsciously, and the novel concludes without a clear resolution. The story simply documents Eric's journey and shows the consequences of his actions. Through the actions, however, the reader can discover the way the Bystander Effect can be so easily assumed.


Let's now take a look at the four main characters in the novel. As mentioned, Eric Hayes is a new student at Bellport Central Middle School. He and his family have just relocated from Ohio. Any middle schooler will be able to understand that. After all, the transition from sixth to seven grade can be rough enough as it is.

Eric is immediately drawn to Griffin Connelly, a confident, charismatic boy in his class. But Griffin has a dark side. The constant abuse of his father has taught Griffin to mimic those displays of strength. So Griffin lashes out at those who are weaker than him. Preller described Griffin as 'two-faced.' He's charming but can also be fearsome. He's popular and proud as well as non-compliant and undisciplined. He's smart but does poorly in school.

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