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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 to Look For and Discuss

Mental Illness

Mental illness is the prominent theme of the story, with the narrator being treated for what is most likely post-partum depression, or something similar. As the narrator is isolated in order to better cure herself, she is left to her imagination as she stares daily at the wallpaper. She is not being treated by modern methods of medicine, where talking and medications are prescribed; instead, she spirals deeper into her own mind, and her mental illness worsens. The story highlights the afflictions of the mentally ill, particularly during this time period where medicine sought emotional and moral strength as the answer to physical ailments.


The Treatment of Women in Marriage and Medicine

Charlotte Perkins Stetson fiercely disagreed with the treatment of women, especially those suffering from mental illness, by the male-dominated medical field. She highlights this with the narrator, who is isolated from friends and other family, and she isn’t expected to acknowledge her feelings or condition at all. Her husband and other doctors at the time prescribed the “Resting Cure”, developed by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell (referenced in the story), which actually serves to exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness even more. For women especially, they were made to feel guilty for having an “invisible disease”, and their supposed inferiority to men was highlighted by their inability to cure their minds through willpower alone.


Emotional Expression and Free Thought

One of the cornerstones of modern psychology is the free expression of emotions and thoughts in exploring things that are troubling the patient. The narrator, however, must not even think about her condition, according to her husband, and she is not allowed to express her emotions in a journal, but she does so in secret anyway. It causes the narrator intense guilt, but also a sense of freedom and burden being lifted from her shoulders. By acknowledging her feelings, she may very well have staved off the descent into madness for longer than she would have by following her husband’s orders strictly.



Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Yellow Wallpaper and Pattern

The yellow wallpaper and the pattern in the upstairs nursery at first is hideous, even odious, to the narrator. The pattern infuriates her. As the weeks and her isolation wear on, however, eventually her obsession with the wallpaper invades her senses and her mind. The wallpaper eventually comes to symbolize the trapped woman inside of the narrator, who is truly ill and in need of help, but being brushed off as weak and nervous by male doctors. Eventually, the wallpaper embodies her mental breakdown when the narrator finally frees the woman behind the wallpaper, and her consciousness intertwines with the imagined woman. In her breakdown, the narrator finds freedom at last.


The Diary

The hidden diary that the narrator is keeping when her husband isn’t looking becomes a source of freedom of thought and expression for the narrator, who has been told not to even think about her condition for fear of taxing her mind and will too much. It is a place where she can express her fears, her guilt, and her resentment at her husband and her doctors for a treatment that is not making her better, but worse. It is also a place where she can express her frustration at her isolation from family and friends.


Light and Dark

The narrator focuses a lot on the differences she sees and experiences in the house during the day and in the moonlight evenings. The nursery itself gets a lot of sunlight from all angles during the day, and it is as the sun moves across the room that the narrator sees the changes in the patterns on the wallpaper. In the moonlight, the pattern becomes like bars, hiding the trapped woman. By day, the woman behind is subdued and quiet, much like the narrator; but by night, she awakens and shakes the bars to escape, much like the inner turmoil and illness of the narrator.


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 Yellow Wall-paper”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from “The Yellow Wall-paper” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  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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