Analyzing Theme, Characters, and Plot

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Objective

Students will be able to determine the theme of “Monsters” by close reading the resolution of a teleplay (Act 2 Scene 3) and analyze a character's impact on plot events by making inferences about characters' direct and indirect traits.

Big Idea

The monsters are here. . . and they are us.

Daily Grammar

15 minutes

Today students encountered the double negative.  A double negative consists of two negative words, like "didn't never."  Two negatives don't make a positive in grammar, so the correct way to say this is "it didn't ever ring." 

We're also continuing the quest to match subjects and verbs.  In the second line, "I needed to found" should be "I needed to find." In the third line, "Some of them groan" should be "Some of them groaned."

Third Read for Theme

15 minutes

Today we completed the third close read in order to determine the theme of "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street."  The purpose of the third read is for the teacher to read aloud and model thinking.  The teacher models the annotating process and makes their thinking transparent to the students.  The difficult part of the third read is to help guide students towards the answers to the text dependent questions without giving those answers away. Sometimes I think that's easier said than done, but if the passage is rigorous and robust, it's much easier.  I think the resolution of the play fits.  Not including the stage directions before and after, it's only one paragraph.  Four sentences.  But there's a whole lot packed into those four sentences, and this third read allows me to guide students to the deep meaning of the play--the theme.  

The picture does not have the stage directions, but I'll talk about those stage directions below.  For the full thing, click here.

 

 

Here's what I pointed out, sentence by sentence.

  • Stage Directions: The camera moves up to the starry sky, which is exactly how the play begins.  We've come full circle, with it ending the way it began.  We're not necessarily supposed to be visualizing the narrator, but the night sky, where the aliens come from. 
  • Sentence One
    • The tools of conquest:  A conquest is a taking over.  The tools of taking over are usually bombs, guns, etc.  But the narrator specifically says that sometimes, that's not true.  Taking over, by force, it seems, isn't just through bombs, explosions, or fallout.  I think from this sentence, fallout refers to the fallout from a nuclear explosion. 
  • Sentence Two
    • There are weapons that are simply thoughts.  Thoughts can be a weapon.  Our prejudices can be weapons.  Our attitudes can be weapons. They're not literally weapons, so Serling is using a metaphor to convey this idea.
    • "Minds of men" is alliteration!
  • Sentence Three
    • "For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy."
  • Sentence Four
    • A scapegoat is someone who is forced to take the blame.  It's not someone who chooses to accept blame, the blame is forced on them.  The characters looked for a scapegoat, but it wasn't a logical choice.  It was frightened, and they stopped thinking.  They let their fear take over. 
    • That search for a scapegoat has consequences, but those consequences are for the children and unborn children. This seems to suggest that the people who target the scapegoat don't necessarily face consequences, but their children do.  And not just the children, but the children yet unborn?  That means the generations to come. 
    • "The pity of it":  If you pity someone, you don't just feel bad for them.  The act of pity has deeper connotations than that.  If you pity someone, you take away some of their humanity.  They become less than what they are.  These consequences are really bad.
    • These consequences can't be confined.  They can't be trapped.  They can't be contained in The Twilight Zone.  That means that this could happen in our world. 

While I was thinking aloud, the students kept gasping. Some even clapped their hands over their mouth.  And when I was done, there was silence for awhile.  They were so deep in thought, they didn't want to talk, and they never want to not talk.  It was weird.  It was like the Twilight Zone leaked out into our world.

Here's the third quickwrite question that I asked students to answer. 

Character Study

30 minutes

Today we're looking at characters.  We're analyzing the character's traits, both direct and indirect, to see how those traits impact the plot. 

How does a character's traits (thoughts, behavior, words) help move the plot along?  In this case, one major way is that the characters either try to calm the others down or help build the conflict by joining in scapegoating others.

We're only considering the major characters for the purposes of this assignment.  I did include Woman as a major character.  Even though she doesn't have a name, she's a pivotal character to assign blame.  She doesn't become a scapegoat, but she certainly targets others.  I put students in groups of two using their clock appointment and assigned each pair of students one character.  This meant that there were two groups assigned to Steve, Charlie, and Les.  They students were more upset about that than I thought they'd be.

We haven't discussed direct and indirect traits for awhile, so students did need a refresher on the difference.  Basically, direct traits are told to the reader directly by the narrator or a character's speech.  Indirect traits require the reader to make inferences based on the speech, thoughts, and actions.  If the reader has to read between the lines, it's indirect characterization.  If you don't have to read between the lines, it's direct characterization.

I reminded students that they had their fancy highlighter tape that they could use to highlight their character's lines as well as the lines that other characters said about them. Using the highlighter tape allows students to identify the lines so they can focus on them without worrying about losing the lines in a page of text.

I would have given each student a copy of this handout had our copier been working.  It's not working (again), so I did a giant version on butcher paper and put this under the doc camera. One side of the paper has a place to record the character' direct traits (traits that are revealed through the narrator's words or directly told by a character's speech) and the other side has room to record indirect traits (traits we learn about through the character's own speech, thoughts, and actions and usually require inferences).  Also included is a space to record the reasons they became a a scapegoat.  In the case of Woman, Myra, and Ethel, that was used to record how they progressed the scapegoating of others.

I gave students about thirty minutes to complete this.  They would have had about thirty five minutes, but we had to go to another classroom to sing happy birthday to a teacher.  We have priorities, yo.

Lesson Resources

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