In This Activity
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.
“The Black Cat” Themes to Look For and Discuss
Guilt and Judgment
The narrator is plagued with guilt over his actions against his wife, his pets, and eventually Pluto. He himself knows that he is an alcoholic and out of control, but he cannot get hold of his misery, nor overcome his depression. Eventually, he knows that he will be judged for his actions, deep down inside, and acknowledges that he commits these acts of violence to seal his eternal damnation in Hell once and for all.
The Effects of Alcoholism
The effects of the narrator’s battle with alcoholism include not only violence, but a loss of himself. He knows he is undergoing a personality change, and looking back, he can see the clouded thinking and judgment that led him to make rash and terrible decisions against Pluto, his wife, and the black and white cat. He finds himself unable to control his emotions, and unable to climb out of his despair, falling back into the cycle that ultimately leads to his own death.
The story brings light to the cycle of domestic violence that often accompanies a disease like alcoholism. Unable to deal with his own feelings of unhappiness, the narrator takes his rage out on his wife and his pets. This is not uncommon for people who abuse alcohol and have issues with their temper. The families are often the routine victims of the alcoholic’s blackouts and paranoia. For whatever reason, the wife stays with the narrator, and this decision highlights of the most dangerous consequences of domestic violence: her murder at the hands of her husband.
“The Black Cat” Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss
The apparition, or burned image, of Pluto hanging from a noose that is burned into the plaster of the wall of the house frightens the narrator. While he knows that there must be some sort of logical explanation for it, he also realizes that there is reason to be fearful of the chain of events that have occurred since he killed the cat: the fire in which he loses everything, and now the image of this cat and his terrible deed are imprinted on the wall of his home.
The Black and White Cat
At first, the black and white cat seems like a chance to make up for what he did to Pluto. However, as soon as he gets him home and sees that he, too, is missing an eye, the narrator is again riddled with guilt and becomes fearful. He sees himself as undeserving of the cat’s affection, and begins to view him as a threat. Indeed, the white patch on the cat’s chest begins to resemble a gallows, which the narrator knows he deserves. The cat ultimately brings justice and judgment to the narrator by helping the police discover her body.
The cellar is a place where the plaster is soft, and allows the narrator to quickly wall up his wife’s body without worrying about her being discovered. He is so satisfied with himself for coming up with the idea to hide her there that he sleeps in relative peace for days. Coupled with the absence of the black and white cat, the narrator is almost gleeful as he walks around the cellar with the police, knowing they’ll never find her. He sees the cellar as a place of peace and tranquility compared to what he’s been battling in his own mind for many years.
Template and Class Instructions
(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)
Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in “The Black Cat”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.
- Click "Start Assignment".
- Identify the theme(s) from “The Black Cat” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
- Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
- Write a description of each of the examples.
Lesson Plan Reference
- [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
(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)
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.
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.
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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