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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

Terror

The terror arises not only on the part of the reader through the creepiness of the setting, the state of Usher, and the ghastly sounds coming from the vaults; it also comes from Usher’s realization that he probably buried his sister alive. As she appears in the doorway in the middle of a horrific storm, covered in blood and in her final gasps, the narrator, now terrified by what he has just witnessed, runs outside only to see the entire house break and fall into the tarn. The fact that his friend and his sister are dead are bad enough; the house is clearly connected to them and they to the house, and once this connection is broken, the narrator bears witness to its utter destruction.


Death

Death is a popular theme found in many of Poe’s works. Poe first explores an almost Romeo and Juliet-like moment when the narrator notices that Madeline is still flushed in death. This is a glaring hint for readers that Madeline might not, indeed, be dead, and that there may be consequences for burying her alive. Indeed, she escape, and uses her last bits of strength to find her brother and fall onto him. The sight of his sister, along with the weeks of emotional and mental unrest connected with her illness and the house, cause Usher to die as well. The house, connected to the last vestige of the Usher family, dies too, breaking down the crack on the exterior wall and falling into the tarn.


The Fragility of the Human Mind

An additional theme is the fragility of the human mind. Many have posited that this story reflects the interconnectedness of the human mind with the environment around it. Roderick, Madeline, and the family house all seem to have a connection with each other. As one gets more ill (Madeline), the others fall into similar states of disrepair. The human mind is also often affected by the people and settings around it. Other people and places have an impact on the mind’s mood, interpretations, and emotions. It often does not take much to crack, much like the crack that has appeared in outside wall of the House of Usher. Poe once said that his poem, "The Haunted Palace" that Roderick sings was meant to imply, "a mind haunted by phantoms - a disordered brain."


Motifs & Symbols to Look For

The Crack in the House

An important symbol is the crack in the exterior wall that the narrator notices upon his arrival at the house. This is often said to represent the crack in the foundation of the Usher family, which will come when death officially separates the twin heirs. The crack is what splits the entire house apart after their deaths, and what brings the house itself crumbling down into the tarn. The fall of the actual house is also the end of the Usher family line.


The Usher House

The house itself is also a symbol. The mansion is in a state of gloom. The windows resemble vacant eyes; the landscape is decaying; the whole scene gives the narrator a feeling of dread. The house reflects the imminent death of Madeline from a mysterious malady, and the state of her brother Roderick, who knows he is going to lose his twin sister and the last connection to their family.


"The Haunted Palace" Poem

The poem that Roderick Usher has written, titled "The Haunted Palace", recounts a king who once lived in a "fair and stately palace." Eventually, however, "evil things" assailed the estate, destroying it and the king, leaving only phantoms of happiness behind. Much like Roderick, his family, and the mansion were once proud and among the living, but they are being taken over now by the evil forces of death.


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 Fall of the House of Usher".

  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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