Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in The Five People You Meet in Heaven

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Symbols, Themes, and Motifs in The Five People You Meet in Heaven


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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 novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes and Ideas to Discuss

The Interconnectedness of All Life

The Blue Man teaches Eddie that all life is connected. Eddie inadvertently ended Joseph’s life when he ran out into traffic after a baseball, causing the heart attack that struck Joseph’s weakened heart. There are no coincidences. Often times, students will be able to recall experiences where it seemed like fate stepped in, or where they can see how “coincidence" happens.

The Necessity of Sacrifice

Sometimes, sacrifice is hard; it’s the surrender of one’s own dreams or plans in order to allow the dreams or plans of someone else to happen. The Captain sacrificed Eddie’s knee in order to save Eddie’s life; furthermore, the Captain sacrificed his life when he stepped on the land mine while opening the gate so that the other men of his unit could drive through to safety. Eddie made his sacrifice when he took over his father’s job at the Pier and moved into his parents’ building to keep an eye on his mother after his father died.

The Importance of Forgiveness

Eddie held onto his anger for his father for a long time; however, the only person he was hurting was himself. His father is gone, and Eddie has not come across him in Heaven – just his inanimate memory in Ruby’s diner. Once Eddie learns to forgive his father, he flushes the anger out of him, which has no place in Heaven. He doesn’t need the anger or the hatred anymore. He is able to move on and become a better version of himself, without allowing his father’s mistakes to hold him back anymore.

The Power of Love

Marguerite teaches Eddie that when a person dies, love does not; it is an eternal emotion, and it doesn’t simply get wiped away because someone leaves physically. Most students will be able to grasp this concept quite easily. Marguerite also teaches Eddie that love takes on a new form: memory. Love continues to be honored and cherished every time it is remembered.

The Purpose of Life

The meaning of life, the purpose of life… it’s the age-old question that no one knows. We hope that one day we’ll learn, but we can never be sure. For Eddie, the mundane tasks of his everyday life at Ruby Pier make him feel like a failure. He feels like he never became anything more in life, and that he let Marguerite down. He is granted a special gift when he meets Tala, because despite her devastating news, he finds that he was meant to be working at Ruby Pier – it was not an accident. His “mundane" work kept thousands of children, and as a result, their children, safe for over 50 years. His life was not a waste. It was meaningful, and he was exactly where he was supposed to be.

Motifs & Symbols to Look For

Ruby Pier

Eddie has a love-hate relationship with Ruby Pier. It is a place where he has many fond memories, but also a place where he feels he has been stuck for his entire life. For the Blue Man, Ruby Pier is the only place where he has ever felt accepted. For Ruby, the Pier represents the destruction of her beloved Emile. It is where all of their stories intersect, and where Eddie makes a sacrifice for his father, and then for Amy or Annie.

The Diner

Ruby’s diner in Heaven represents the times before Ruby Pier existed, when she and Emile had their entire lives and a world of promise stretched ahead of them. It is also where Eddie learns to forgive his father. He tells his father that he forgives him for the imprints he left on his childhood glass, and this allows Eddie to finally let go of his anger and to move on.

The Weddings

The different weddings Marguerite has in her own Heaven represent the power of love. On wedding days, everyone is filled with happiness, and their future is filled with promise. Marguerite also keeps their own wedding reception special for his arrival, because for her, it represents the start of their love which will never die.

The Rock and Washing Ritual

The rock and washing ritual that Eddie does for Tala allows him to forgive himself for his mistake all those years ago; it cleanses something inside of him, and his tangled emotions finally exhaust themselves. As he cleans away Tala’s burned, disfigured skin, he cleans away his burned, disfigured emotions that keep him chained to his life. He discovers the meaning of his life, and the way he made up for his mistake at the hut: he kept children safe.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, symbols, and motifs in The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Five People You Meet in Heaven you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

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