An Allegorical Investigation of "The Minister's Black Veil"

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SWBAT analyze "The Minister's Black Veil" in both a text-embedded metacognitive reading log and an allegorical investigation process sheet.

Big Idea

Making the leap from finding allegory in "Horton Hears a Who" to finding allegory in "The Minister's Black Veil" is easier than you'd think!

Lesson Overview

Last class period, students had time to practice the skills necessary to determine possible allegorical meaning in a familiar childhood story, "Horton Hears a Who."  They will come to class today with a completed individual attempt at this analysis.  Our class discussion today will focus around gathering feedback from students about their analysis experience and what evidence they used to support an overall allegorical analysis of the story.  After building confidence and supplementing instruction with this process, we will move up to our age-appropriate text, "The Minister's Black Veil" for some more applied practice.


30 minutes

While students will likely be chomping at the bit to throw their allegorical interpretations at you, avoid letting them do so!  The assignment was designed to walk them through this analysis as a process as a way of preventing students from taking shortcuts in thought.  We will discuss their homework, therefore, by walking through the assignment in the same manner that they completed it.  Tying evidence to interpretations is critical to frame our discussion and to meet the expectations set out by the Common Core Standards.  At this point, students should be pretty familiar with the "evidence requirement," but I will stress this point again before beginning our discussion to remind them once again of the expectations.  For each section, I will ask the following questions:

  1. What characters and traits did you note?  For each trait, include if this was something that was told to you directly (direct characterization) or something that you inferred through an action (indirect characterization).  
  2. Which characters do you have listed as functioning as a group?  What connects them as a group?
  3. Can someone give me a concise, clear, objective summary?  
  4. Did you notice any outright symbols?  (Students might need a little help with this one.  If they do not address it, it's helpful to get them to see that even the animal choices could be symbolic.  What does an eagle symbolize?  Any connections with elephants as a symbol?  Kangaroos?  Monkeys?  How about the clocks in Whoville?  How can clocks be a symbol?  If they didn't have a "head spinning" moment when they were considering this question on paper, they absolutely NEED to have one now.  Once they start to consider the degree of richness possible in text with careful reading, I truly believe they will consider putting forth more effort and care in reading.
  5. So what did you come to for an overall theme?  This is the parable level of analysis, so DON'T share with me your full-on allegorical meaning!  What lessons are readers supposed to learn?  How does Dr. Seuss ensure that they do?
  6. And now...for the main event...what do you think could be the allegory?  I only want suggestions that work from the beginning of the story through the end, and they MUST be supported by evidence that got you there.  (Accept student suggestions that are well supported and make sense with all of the events in the story.  Encourage varying interpretations.  I have heard these about abortion, bullying, political wars, current events, and more.  I even go ahead and accept anachronisms that came after Seuss wrote it, since it gives us the opportunity to discuss that allegories and themes are present throughout generations and eras.)
  7. So when you have a plethora of possibilities, how do you determine the most likely?  (Students may say Google, but avoid letting them take the easy way out.  They should consider elements like historical context and the amount of evidence that supports each claim to help them better weigh the probability of correctness.)
  8. Would you be surprised to learn that Dr. Seuss intended this allegory to be about the United States helping Japan post WWII?  Which part of the story match up with that allegory?  (Students will point out that the speck would be Japan after the atomic bomb was dropped.  Horton represents the United States, and the Kangaroo and other characters would stand for nations opposed to helping Japan.)
  9. In Seuss's allegory, would Seuss be advocating for helping Japan or letting them rebuild on their own?  (Helping Japan.)
  10. What extra evidence would help a reader support Seuss's allegory more clearly?  (Students will say the ruin of clocks and time on the speck, and then general disarray of Whoville, which would mirror a post-bombing Japan.)


After we complete our discussion, I will ask students for feedback about the ethical implications of hiding allegory in children's literature.  I would like students to have a brief, but spirited discussion about the topic to emphasize the relevance of looking for allegory in literature.  Some students may not care about exploring extended metaphor, but it's definitely of real-life value to consider (and look for) allegory in seemingly simple written work.

Building Knowledge

15 minutes

Next, students will review the definitions of inference and direct & indirect characterization and add these terms into their notes.  Most students are already aware of what these terms mean, but students are often too lazy to attach the proper support to inferences or characterizations that are indirect.  The "Horton Hears a Who" required this skill a bit, and our investigation of "The Minister's Black Veil" will require students to use more of it.  In addition to defining these terms in our notes, we will develop examples to demonstrate how this characterization may occur and add those into our notes as well. 

After we have created our own examples, students will view the following edited clip from Mean Girls.  While viewing, students will write down examples of both direct and indirect characterization.  After viewing the clip, we will discuss as a class our answers and if the director was successful in using these characterizations to describe the main character.  Students love this activity, though if you don't have the resources to show the clip, it works just as well just referencing the movie and asking students to pull appropriate examples of direct and indirect characterization from it!


30 minutes

Once students have had a refresher on direct and indirect characterization, students will be given time to begin reading "The Minister's Black Veil."  While reading, students will also complete their second Metacognitive Reading Log and associated Curriculum Embedded Reading Assessment (CERA) questions.  Students have gotten feedback on their last reading logs based on the Metacognitive Reading Log Rubric, so I am confident that they will demonstrate improved reading cognition this time around.  Students had a relatively successful first attempt with the logs, though many students reverted back to surface-level reading and logging late into the assignment.  A review of the rubric and completed first round of logs helped students to gain a better understanding of the complete requirements of these assignments.  All materials are included in the resources of this section. 

While I do not always allow students a larger chunk of time to read in class, I think it is important to allow this time today.  "The Minister's Black Veil" is fairly long, and students will be more successful in providing a sustained effort with the logs if they break up their reading time.  I will allow 30 minutes today, and during this time I will circulate around the room to answer any questions and monitor student progress.  Before they launch into reading, I will warn them that the story itself is a little odd and shares the characteristics of Dark Romanticism.  I will also let them know that the story is an example of allegory, which they will explore further when they complete the "Allegorical Process Sheet" upon completion of the story.  Finally, I will encourage them to persevere through the engaged reading of the story, which can be difficult at times.  Reminding them that some things are challenging helps students become more reasonable in their reading expectations. 


15 minutes

As a final activity for the day, students will have the opportunity to complete another subject/verb Agreement assignment practice in No Red Ink.  The assignment I created for today focuses on the skills which were demonstrated as weaknesses for most students on our first formative subject/verb agreement assignment within the program.  For my students, those weak skills were cases of subject/verb agreement containing:

  • "or" and "nor"
  • singular and plural subjects with "or" or "nor"
  • combining two subjects with "and"
  • phrases in between a subject and a verb
  • oft-confused singular words
  • "here" and "there"
  • "who," "that," and "which"
  • singular collective nouns
  • singular nouns that end in "s"

While students take the assessment, they should pay extra attention to the questions they get wrong, working to carefully correct their errors and consider what they did wrong.  The program gives plenty of instruction along the way to help students fix their errors and understand rules, but I learned from our first activity that students ignore these opportunities if they have not been instructed otherwise.  Next class period, we will have a quiz over this information, so it will be crucial that students thoughtfully grapple with these "special cases" now.

Next Steps

For homework, students need to finish reading "The Minister's Black Veil" while completing the required Metacognitive Reading Log & CERA Questions.  They should only have a few pages left because of the reading time given in class, so this assignment shouldn't be overwhelming.  Additionally, they need to download and complete an "Allegorical Process Sheet" that identifies textual evidence to support each question and makes an overall judgment on the allegory which might be present in the story.  Finally, students should use their progress chart within the No Red Ink platform to help them study for the upcoming subject/verb agreement quiz.  The program allows students to assign themselves additional practice on any skill, so this task is completely optional, but highly recommended.