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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 to Look For and Discuss

The Dangers of Totalitarian Societies

The novel highlights the totalitarian regime that takes over in the wake of a fertility crisis. Using religion in a selective manner to further their goals, the architects of Gilead manage to crush their enemies completely and maintain order through fear, torture, murder, and guilt. Friends and family betray one another to the government, people are hung on the Wall daily, and most people fear for their immortal souls if they disobey the Scriptures. This regime destroys the autonomy of women, and of the human spirit.


Defining Gender Roles

In the Republic of Gilead, women are stratified: the Wives run the households; the Handmaids bear the children for the Wives; the Marthas are housmaids; the Aunts train and keep order over the Handmaids. Each role centers itself around the reproduction cycle of the Handmaid. Women are seen as vessels for bearing children; those who willingly gave this duty up were sent off to hard labor in the Colonies as Unwomen. Their very womanhood was stripped from them once they could not bear children.


Loss of Identity

Handmaids were given the names of their Commanders with the prefix “of” to show possession. For example, Offred was Fred’s Handmaid; Ofglen was Glen’s Handmaid. Women lost their names, tattooed with an identification marker on their ankles, and put into the same, shapeless clothing. Makeup was forbidden, as was any hint of a past identity.


Environmental Responsibility

The start of the fertility crisis in Gilead had its roots in a few events: biological tampering for warfare purposes; a new super strain of syphilis along with the AIDS epidemic; widespread availability of birth control; and nuclear spills, toxic leaching from nuclear stockpiles, and irresponsible use of pesticides. While there were many factors, the environmental mishaps played a large role in why women and men found themselves sterile. It does seem to be a clear warning to take better care of the planet and the things we create.



Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

Colors

The women and men of Gilead are separated by job/class, and this was indicated by colors. Commanders wore black; Guardians wore black or green; Wives wore powder blue; Handmaids wore red; Marthas wore dull green; Econowives wore stripes of green, red, and blue; Aunts wore khaki-brown; and young female children wore white. For the Handmaids, the red made them stand out but also symbolized the life they were trying to create and carry. It symbolized their duty; for the Handmaids, it symbolized their curse.


The Eye

The Eye is the symbol of the Republic of Gilead’s government, supposedly to symbolize being “under His [God’s] Eye”. It was supposed to bring a feeling of comfort; however, it was utilized in a very sinister way. The black vans of secret agents that would pick people up for interrogations and torture bore this symbol in white. The Eyes were also a code name for spies who infiltrated different areas of society to turn people in to the government.


The Wings

The wings are what Offred and her fellow Handmaids call the bonnet that goes up and around their faces. It keeps others from being able to see their faces unless they are looking at them directly; it also prevents the Handmaids from being able to see their surroundings well. Sometimes, Offred expresses her frustration at the wings blocking her view of the world; however, at other times it offers opportunities to hide her feelings or thoughts in a veil of safety.


The Ceremony

The Gileadean society revolves around the Ceremony. Each month, after reading Scriptures that justify this proceeding from the Bible, the Handmaid would lie in the lap of the Wife while the Commander would have intercourse with the Handmaid. The intertwined hands of the Wife and Handmaid was supposed to represent being of one flesh. After the Ceremony, the entire household would wait with baited breath to see if the Handmaid became pregnant. It was typically humiliating for all parties involved, but they believed it necessary to the survival of the society.


Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 11-12

Difficulty Level 3 (Developing to Mastery)

Type of Assignment Individual or Partner

Type of Activity: Themes, Symbols & Motifs

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/3] Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed)
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/5] Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact
  • [ELA-Literacy/SL/11-12/2] Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data


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 that identifies recurring themes in The Handmaid’s Tale. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Handmaid’s Tale you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.



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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