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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 Ideas to Discuss

Ambition

An important theme in “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket” is ambition. Tom’s ambition is what causes him to choose to stay home and work that evening rather than go out and enjoy a date night with his wife. Tom hopes that his weeks’ worth of intensive research at grocery stores and at the library will be enough to present a new method of grocery store displays that will be put into use by spring. He knows it won’t lead to a raise or promotion immediately, but he hopes it will be enough to make a name for himself in the industry. His ambition also leads him to weigh the risk of his life over the risk of losing the work, and he takes the chance of falling to his death in order to save the paper.


The Necessity of Balance

Another important theme is the necessity of balance. Before Clare leaves, she tells Tom that he works too hard, and that does indeed seem to be the case - he wants to make a name for himself in the grocery industry. However, when Tom assesses the risk to his life versus the risk of getting the paper, he foolishly chooses to risk his life for a scrap of paper, suggesting that his priorities are skewed. He doesn’t have a good enough balance of enjoying life versus work to have perspective of which is more important. This is a trap many career-minded people can fall into, even if the situation isn’t as dire as Tom’s. Some will choose work over families, health, and enjoyment, to their own detriment.


Overcoming Fear

An additional important theme in the story is overcoming fear. While Tom was out on the ledge, he realizes just how high up he is from the ground, and he is paralyzed by fear. He almost passes out from the fear, which would have been fatal. Slowly, but surely, Tom is able to steel his mind against the overwhelming effects of the fear and make his way back to the window, despite his newfound clumsiness. When the window closes on him, he must assess the situation and come up with a new plan to get back into the apartment. Tom’s ability to overcome his fear becomes necessary to preserving his very life. This is a common theme found in many other works of literature as well.


Motifs & Symbols to Look For

The Yellow Sheet of Paper

An important symbol in “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket” is the yellow sheet of paper. For Tom, the paper represents his hopes and dreams, his ambitions, for his career. It represents weeks of hard work and intense thinking. It represents his future, a better future for him and Clare. When he realizes he still has the paper out on the ledge, however, he thinks about how if anyone found the paper in his pocket after he fell to his death, that it would mean nothing to anyone else. In the end, he realizes, it would not mean anything at all if he’s dead. It comes to represent his foolishness by the end of the story.


The Window

Another important symbol is the window. The window is the first part of Tom’s problem and the last obstacle for Tom to return to the safety of his apartment. He thinks about how Clare never is able to open the window because it always sticks, and now that same issue is keeping him from getting back in. As he rears back to punch out the window, fighting back his fear, he thinks of Clare, and screams her name. It is Clare that gives him that last bit of strength. The window also steals his work again as he leaves, but this time, Tom knows what is more important.


Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 9-10

Difficulty Level 3 (Developing to Mastery)

Type of Assignment Individual or Partner

Type of Activity: Themes, Symbols & Motifs

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/3] Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/5] Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise
  • [ELA-Literacy/SL/9-10/2] Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source


Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Use This Assignment With My Students", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)



Student Instructions

Create a storyboard depicting important themes, symbols, and motifs in the story.

  1. Use the template provided by your teacher.
  2. Identify important themes, symbols, and motifs.
  3. Describe how the theme, symbol, or motif is important to the story.
  4. Illustrate each example with appropriate images, scenes, characters, and items.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.


Rubric

(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)



Themes, Symbols, and Motifs (Grades 9-12)
Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, symbols, and/or motifs in the story. Illustrate instances of each and write a short description that explains the example's significance.
Proficient Emerging Beginning Needs Improvement
Identification of Theme(s), Symbol(s), and/or Motif(s)
All themes are correctly identified as important recurring topics or messages in the story. Symbols are correctly identified as objects that represent something else at a higher level in the story. Motifs are correctly identified as important recurring features or ideas in the story.
Most themes are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete. Most symbols are correctly identified, but some objects are missing or incomplete. Some motifs are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete.
Most themes are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most symbols are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most motifs are missing, incomplete, or incorrect.
No themes, symbols, or motifs are correctly identified.
Examples and Descriptions
Quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motifs that are being identified. Descriptions mostly accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s), and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are minimal, incorrect, or unrelated to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions contain inaccuracies in their explanations, or do not highlight their significance to the story.
Examples and descriptions are missing or too minimal to score.
Depiction
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are accurate to the story and reflect time, effort, thought, and care with regard to placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are mostly accurate to the story. They reflect time and effort put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are inaccurate to the story. The depictions may be rushed or show minimal effort, time, and care put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Most depictions are missing too many elements or are too minimal to score. Little time or effort has been put into placement and creation of the scenes.
English Conventions
There are no errors in spelling, grammar, or mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions reflect careful proofreading and accuracy to the story.
There are a few errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions show accuracy to the story and some proofreading.
There are several errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. Most writing portions do not reflect proofreading or accuracy to the story.
Errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics in writing portions of the storyboard seriously interfere with communication.




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