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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.


Fear

The success of the story comes from its ability to access one fundamental human quality: fear. In the case of the narrator, he is fearful of his sentence, fearful of pain, and in real fear of death. He is able to maintain his rational faculties throughout his ordeal, however, which is notable because he does not become paralyzed by fear, even though his circumstance is completely terrifying. The chamber itself is made to induce fear; the slow descent of the pendulum creates both psychological suspense and mortal terror; and the pit represents the final decision: death, the ultimate fear.


Intolerance and Injustice

The narrator is a victim of the Spanish Inquisition, which sentenced and tortured those who were found guilty of secretly practicing their religions, or who were found to be withholding information. This system of intolerance is based in the Spanish justice system: there is a formal charge, an investigation, a trial, a judgment, and a sentence. The whole system, however, is based on injustice because the basic premises of these trials is people’s inability to practice their own religion freely. Even his sentence is an unjust one, because it is not a simple execution or an opportunity for penance: it is sheer psychological torture and certain death.


The Power of Despair

The narrator gives in to utter despair a few times throughout the story. The first is when he physically loses consciousness after his sentence, knowing that all hope of mercy is lost. The second comes when he almost gives in to the inevitable death that the pendulum seems ready to deliver. However, this “collected calmness of despair” allows him to formulate a plan of escape, which works. Finally, the narrator’s last act of despair comes with his scream as he is about to be pushed into the pit. His scream seems to bring forth General Lasalle at the absolute last moment, who is able to save him from certain death.



The Chamber

The Chamber itself is an instrument of fear. It makes use of complete and disorienting darkness, then mysterious glowing, with pictures of horrifying creatures on the walls to wreak psychological havoc on the narrator. The walls themselves become the instrument of certain death for the narrator, as they push him towards the pit after he escapes from the pendulum.


The Pendulum

The pendulum swings back and forth, much like a grandfather clock. Each moment it swings, the narrator is confronted with the terrifying reality that it’s both getting closer, and it is razor sharp. The pendulum is part of this “just” sentence being issued by the inquisitors, but in reality, it is an instrument of psychological torture. It creates the idea of a game, giving the narrator so much time to formulate an escape, or he loses.


The Pit

The pit is the narrator’s first close call with death, as he almost tumbles headlong into it while stumbling around in the chamber in the dark. The pit becomes his final choice as he is pushed towards it by the enclosing chamber walls which are burning fire-hot. The narrator knows that the pit means certain death for him, and he screams in despair as he finds he has run out of options.



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 that identifies recurring themes in “The Pit and the Pendulum”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from “The Pit and the Pendulum” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples 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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