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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.


A Tale of Two Cities Themes to Look For and Discuss

The Destructive Nature of Revenge

Madame Defarge’s brother, brother-in-law, father, and sister either died or were murdered by the Marquis St. Evrémonde twin brothers. It makes sense that Mme. Defarge would be extremely bitter towards these men who used their privilege to destroy her entire family. Her thirst for revenge, however, goes beyond the brothers to Charles Darnay, the son, nephew, and heir of the Marquis. She believes that Darnay should pay for the sins of his family, despite the fact that he renounced his title and property years before. She also wants to destroy his wife, Lucie, and their daughter, to end the bloodline for good. Mme. Defarge’s desire to avenge her family ultimately leads to her own destruction at the hands of Miss Pross, but also backfires because Charles is rescued from death by Carton.


Revolution

The French Revolution was caused by a number of things, including drought and poor harvests, increased taxation, and oppression of the Third Estate. Being stuck in a cycle of poverty and injustice is a powerful motivator for people to move towards change, and with the recent Declaration of Independence by the United States from England, the commoners were beginning to realize the power the will of the people have over their rulers. However, Revolution for the French was a double-edged sword: while they initially fought for noble causes like their rights as citizens and as men, radical factions of the movement quickly turned the revolution into a bloodbath, ushering in the Reign of Terror where the cause was maintaining power.


Resurrection

The title of the first book, “Recalled to Life”, deals with the resurrection of Dr. Manette from his imprisonment. In a sense, he is being physically resurrected because his daughter Lucie believed him to be dead; metaphorically, he is being resurrected as Lucie helps to pull him out of his prisoner mindset. The novel also deals with Sydney Carton’s resurrection from hopelessness to fulfillment as he rediscovers his humanity by sacrificing his own life to save Charles Darnay’s. In addition, through this sacrifice, Darnay is able to walk away from death and live a renewed life with his wife and daughter.


The Importance of Sacrifice

As a young man, Sydney Carton feels that he wasted all of his potential, and finds himself without hope for a brighter future. He routinely sees Charles as an example of who he could have been, but he is unable to find the courage within himself to change his life. He hopes one day to redeem something in his life by swearing to do anything for Lucie and her family. He gets to fulfill this promise by making the ultimate sacrifice, switching places with Charles for his execution, allowing Charles, Lucie, and their family to escape to safety. By making this sacrifice, Sydney finally finds purpose and becomes whole again.



A Tale of Two Cities Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

La Guillotine

The winds of revolution also bring about the age of the guillotine. The guillotine is used against revolting peasants first, and then becomes a symbol of retribution and justice for the peasants against the nobles. The guillotine became so prevalent and so routine that the narrator observes it became a symbol of a pseudo-religion. He observes, “It superseded the Cross. Models of it were worn on breasts from which the Cross was discarded, and it was bowed down to and believed in where the Cross was denied.”


The Grindstone

The grindstone is both a symbol of fear and of strength for the characters in the novel. The revolutionaries use the grindstone to keep their weapons sharp as they continue to rid their world of traitors and nobles. As Lorry, Dr. Manette, and Lucie gaze upon it, however, they see the blood covering the men and women as they sharpen their weapons for more murder. The revolution seems to be taking a turn towards something more ugly, and the revolutionaries are being driven by revenge and love of violence rather than by change for a greater good.


The Knitted Register

Madame Defarge’s knitting reveals a register of names, a hit-list of enemies of the revolution that must be taken care of. Mme. Defarge rarely puts down her knitting, her desire for revenge for her family and for her nation making her one of the more frightening figures of the cause. The register is indecipherable to anyone except Madame Defarge, and seems to be a source of personal comfort to her as well as her duty to the cause.


The Shoemaker’s Bench and Tools

Dr. Manette, imprisoned for 18 years by the Marquis, found solace in his shoemaking when the isolation and boredom became enough to drive him mad. He continues this after his release, almost incoherent when his daughter finally reaches him.Through her care, he does come back to his senses, but relapses when he realizes that Charles might be a nobleman, and when he discovers that he is, indeed, related to the very men who stole his freedom for nearly two decades.


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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