Themes, Symbols and Motifs in "Autumn Gardening"

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for Autumn Gardening



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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

The Importance of Bearing Witness

Mitsuye’s letter to Mariko originally makes her feel uncomfortable and unable to do what is being asked of her. Yet, when Mitsuye mentions that they can “speak for the dead”, this hits home for Mariko. She thinks about all of the people she had to watch die, and wonders if by bearing witness about the dangers of nuclear weapons, maybe she can find a purpose for herself. In fact, “bearing witness” is what the Jewish people have done who survived the Holocaust and concentration camps. It’s an important theme for students to remember, because if no one bears witness about the consequences of things like nuclear weapons and prejudice, these are mistakes the world might be doomed to repeat in the future.

Survivor’s Guilt

The narrator remarks that for Mariko, “She often felt as if she were neither dead nor alive, only an organism living out her allotted timespan because fate had chosen not to take her life that day.” For Mariko, the scars on her face from the glass made her an outcast in her uncle’s town of Tomo Village, where the people thought the infected cuts meant that Mariko was bad luck. Rather than disagree with them, or try to stand up for herself, as soon as the cuts heal, she flees Japan. Mariko does not understand why she lived while so many others died that day, which is a common feeling for people who survive mass-tragedies. This guilt keeps Mariko trapped emotionally, but bearing witness might finally give her the opportunity to move on.

Motifs & Symbols

Mariko’s Scars

Mariko’s scars from the glass embedded in her skin which caused nerve damage have given her a permanently cynical twist to her mouth. She feels as if the scars are punishment for the people she had to leave behind when she was triaging the victims of the bombing. They are a constant reminder not only of the horrors of that day, but also of the awful choices she had to make that she is still haunted by to this day.

The Gardening

The yard work, raking leaves, that Mariko does throughout the majority of the story represents her mulling over Mitsuye’s request. While she initially decides she’ll write back the next day and tell her no, as Mariko continues to think back to her experiences on the day of the bombing, she comes to the decision that bearing witness is something she needs to do. After she decides to do it after all, she begins weeding her flowerbeds, preparing them for spring. Spring, typically representing new life and new opportunities, mirrors Mariko’s resolve to give her life new purpose with this opportunity.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in “Autumn Gardening”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from “Autumn Gardening” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

Template: Theme


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