Category Archives: Themes

Seasons of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih

Salih, Tayeb. Season of Migration to the North. Trans. Laila Lalami. New York: New York Review, 2009. Print.

The themes that surround the conflict in Season of Migration to the North are loss of identity, loss of home, and loss of reality. I believe the main conflict is that the protagonist is unaware of the connection between his between two worlds. Physically, in the sense he leaves his village, enters western civilization, and then comes back. He in between the old traditions he was raised with and contemporary life in the west. His mental state of mind is also in the middle of two psyches, two personalities. Hence, he is searching for an identity he can call his own. Furthermore, because he is stuck in the middle of these two mental and physical worlds he is unable to live in the moment. He is stuck inside his own mind and perception, which prevents him from moving forward and embracing others with compassion. He is obsessed with learning about the village killer Mufasa. The protagonist is infatuated by Mufasa’s intelligence and legacy. The closer the narrator, and or protagonist, gets inside of a psychotic mind, the more it is believed Mufasa is actually the narrator’s alter ego.  He does love Mufasa’s wife, Husna, but he does not pursue her. The reader is left with an ambiguous ending and wonders if the protagonist was Mufasa the entire time.

A blog from The Guardian, “Reading literary fiction improves empathy, study finds”  parallels to the reading of Seasons of Migration to the North on two levels. One, the narrator’s alter ego, or other self is a narcissistic murderer. The conversation of gaining empathy and psychological illness is relevant to his lack of empathy and unstable psychological characteristics. Two, a modern conversation about the positive influence literary fiction has on humanity, and in this blog a young man speaks about his experience reading literary fiction.

The young man, Kidd states,

“Transferring the experience of reading fiction into real-world situations was a natural leap, Kidd argued, because “the same psychological processes are used to navigate fiction and real relationships. Fiction is not just a simulator of a social experience, it is a social experience.”

I think teaching Seasons of Migrations to the North to a classroom full of adolescent readers may be challenging. But, a way to avoid a student’s resistance or interest in this novella is to pair it with something the student can relate to. With that said, the current topic “Reading literary fiction improves empathy, study finds” and the young man, Kidd’s perspective on literary fiction may open their minds.

Similar to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I would expect the students to use selective highlighting while they read. Especially, because Seasons of Migration to the North is not structured in linear time. Each chapter jumps in time drastically with the narrator’s psyche. I would specifically ask the students to highlight moments where the protagonist’s mood or perspective has changed.


Driving through the Fog: Imagination & Reality


Camus, Albert. The Stranger. S.l.: Vintage International, 1989. Print.

In The Stranger, Camus tells a narrative about Meursault, a young protagonist and detached human being. Meursault’s character is described as neither moral or amoral because his internal is completely neutral. The reader can sympathize with Meursault because he is honest about his emotions and feelings. Camus draws the readers attention to living in a state of being neutral and questions if that state is morally acceptable. The line between right and wrong is blurred and the protagonist’s internal journey and realities are foged. This novel is existential as it questions the purpose of mankind.

An anticipation guide would be helpful to students before and after reading this text. Students should answer true or false to the following statements.

1. It is impossible for man to find true meaning in life.

2. True meaning in life can only be accomplished after acknowledging a state of nothingness.

3. An individual is not defined by religion, society, politics, or culture.

A Question for an Essay or Discussion: The philosophy of existentialism means that nothing in life matters, including death. Give examples of Meursault’s experiences with death and describe his reactions. Do his reaction support or contradict him as an existential character?



741618Pirandello, Luigi, and Edward Storer. Six Characters in Search of an Author. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1998. Print.

Six Characters in Search of an Author, is a play within a play. The character’s are rehearsing a play in search of an author. As they search for an author to the play rehearsed, the characters question the meaning of their existence. In other words, the refuse to exist without an author. Sparknotes states, ” While the Character’s reality is real, the Actors’ is not; while the Character is somebody, man is nobody. Man is nobody because he is subject to time: his reality is fleeting, always ready to reveal itself as illusion, whereas the Character’s reality remains fixed for eternity.”

Essential Questions:

1. Compare and contrast the importance of the father’s existence as an actor and as a character in the play within the play.

2. Describe Pirandello’s existence in his own play and what is the significance of the author’s role?






Taking the Lead: Freedom & Responsibility



 “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” by Thoreau

Thoreau, Henry David. “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” Civil Disobedience and Other Essays. Dover Thrift ed.: Dover Publications, 1993. 1-20. Print.

“On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” is a classic non-fiction essay that rebutes against the laws of the American government during the Mexican- American War. This essay questions the power of the United States government and promotes an individuals personal, and moral, outlook on societal issues. He compares and contrasts the ideas, and terms, civil and disobedience in order to support his argument. Section one raises the question, should a government exist? Thoreau answers this question while illustrating the advantages and disadvantages of the government in the United States. In section two, he explains the U.S. citizens’ response to laws and the government system. He supports his main points by defining freedom and moral principles. His essential question is targeted to the individual’s understanding of disobedience and perception of laws.  Section three focuses on Thoreau’s personal experience with civil disobedience. His argument is focused on how the individual perceives his or her view and the idea of an individual conforming to the government’s beliefs.

According to Lexile, the age of reading level is ages 12- 18.





While reading “On Civil Disobedience,” students should complete a concept map for each section of the essay. Thoreau uses many terms to support his arguments and the students should understand his definition for each term. The concept map allows students to reflect while reading and map out the key terms used. The key terms should be pulled directly out of the text in quotations and rephrased in the students’ own words. Below, is a link to the concept map reading strategy from






“The Things They Carried” by O’Brien


O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. Print.

In the short story, “The Things They Carried,” Jimmy Cross, the protagonist, leaves behind the love of his life and enters into the Vietnam War as a young man. He brings along objects that remind him of his true love and each object is symbolic of his emotional states. As young man, he is burdened by responsibility. He is fighting for freedom, but his freedom as a young man is taken from him as he enters the Vietnam War.


In regards to the theme of freedom and responsibility, students should be given the opportunity to reflect on their personal responses to “The Things They Carried.” For students to comprehend the text and provide a personal reflection, a double-entry journal is necessary while reading. states the double-entry journal is an “… interactive strategy activates prior knowledge and present feelings, and promotes collaborative learning.” Below, are the AdLit guidelines for this reading strategy.

1. Students fold a piece of paper in half, lengthwise.
2. In the left hand column, the students write a phrase or sentence from the selection that was particularly meaningful to them, along with the page number.
3. In the right hand column, the students react to the passage by writing personal responses to the quotes on the left. The entry may include a comment, a question, a connection made, or an analysis.
4. Students can share their responses with the class or literature discussion group.

Essential Questions for the double-entry journal:

1. Describe Jimmy’s burdens and emotions.

2. Explain what caused Jimmy to feel burdened or restricted as an individual.

2. Analyze Jimmy as a young man. How does his youth conflict with his responsibilities as a soldier?

Idea for an Assessment of “The Things They Carried” and “On Civil Disobedience.”

After reading both texts, students should reflect on their personal experience with freedom and responsibility as an adolescent  student in the United States. They should use format of a persuasive essay or write a short story to present to the class. The presentation should be delivered to the class as a speech.

Guidelines for the presentation:

1. Follow the non-fiction essay or creative non-fiction story format.

2. Define yourself as an adolescent student in America.

3. Articulate an argument that supports or rebuts the U.S. government’s support system for adolescent learners.

4. Identify the advantages and disadvantages of the American government.

5. Use key terms and main points in your argument.

6. Provide examples from your personal experience.

The NCTE Standards for ELA:

Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.


The Separate Paths: Men & Women



“Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich

Rich, Adrienne. Diving into the Wreck; Poems, 1971-1972. New York: Norton, 1973. Print.

In the poem, Diving into the Wreck,” Adrienne Rich illustrates a feminist perspective through the experience of the speaker, a diver. The speakers experience of diving into the sea, described as the setting, is a metaphor of a woman’s experience in the wreck, the United States in the seventies. The diver compares her experience to a man’s and explains her search for identity. Rich uses poetic devices to create a beautiful poem of a woman questioning gender and identity.


Before reading “Diving into the Wreck,” students should be introduced to the following poetic terms:

Diction, Alliteration, Consonance, Assonance, Line Breaks, End-stopped, Enjambment, Caesura,  Figures of Speech, Simile, Metaphor, Synecdoche, Onomatopoeia, and Personification. 

Also before reading, students must be provided with an introduction of a feminism and gender stereotypes.

While reading, students should highlights the moments in “Diving into the Wreck,” where the poetic devices are used.

After reading, students should discuss how the poetic devices enrich the essential question of gender and identity.

Idea for Assessment:

Write and Perform a Personal Poem

1. Write a poem about about yourself, or a fictional character, searching for identity.

2. This poem must question gender stereotypes.

3. Use at least three poetic devices while writing.

4. Create handmade or digital images that bring your poem to life.

5. Prepare to read your poem out loud to the class.

6. Hand in one page explaining the poetic devices used and why you used them.



The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. New York: Viking, 1967. Print.

The Outsiders is a narrative about a group of young men that illustrate conflict in gender and class in the 1950s. The protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis is a part of a group of young men called the ‘greasers’ and experiences dangerous situations rivalrying against the Socs, a group of young men from the upper-class. Although The Outsiders portrays the issue of class separation, gender stereotypes are evident as well. Both groups of young men are associated with violence. Also, the interactions between the young women and interactions between young men are very different. The way each gender is stereotyped can be identified in the personalities of the young men and young women characters.

According to Lexile, The Outsiders reading level ranges from ages 12- 16.





While reading The Outsiders, students can compare and contrast gender roles by analyzing dialogue. How does each character speak? Students must choose an interaction between a female character and a male character.

The essential question:

How is the character’s voice described and what is the author saying about gender stereotype?

After reading, students could write a compare and contrast essay explaining gender stereotypes between a female and male character.

An idea for assessment: Compare and Contrast Essay

Compare and contrast a male and female character from The Outsiders. Explain S.E. Hinton’s commentary on gender stereotypes based on the characters’ personality traits and actions.

Traveling as a Pack: Family & Identity

Dreams in a Time of War by Ngugi wa Thiong’o





Yang, Gene Luen., and Lark Pien. American Born Chinese. New York: Square Fish, 2008.Print.

American Born Chinese, by Luen Yang, opens a conversation about immigration in America that is frequently ignored. The root of this neglected conversation is: America destroys the identity of young immigrants. Immigrants in America are treated as outsiders. This treatment affects a young immigrant’s ability to accept his or her own identity.

In a NPR Books interview, Juno Diaz On ‘Becoming American,’ the author, Diaz shares his experience as a young immigrant in America. He explains his feelings of isolation growing up in New Jersey. He says,

“The solitude of being an immigrant, the solitude of having to learn a language in a culture from scratch lead me to the need of some sort of explanation, the need for answers, the need for something that would somehow shelter me lead me to books.”

This interview also highlights the significance of books and literature as a tool to create a conversation about current issues. Juno Diaz also states, “Books became the map in which I navigated this new world.” It is interesting that he refers to books as a map to discover a new place and to identify himself in a new community.

It would be interesting to use the idea of a book as a map to a new place in relation to immigration and American Born Chinese. I would teach American Born Chinese based on the narrative of a tragic hero and plot. In order to create an interactive lesson the students would need to understand the definition of a tragic flaw, a literary tragedy, a tragic hero, and plot.









8After the graphic organizers are complete the students will present their work. At the beginning of each presentation the group presenting will draw a triangle on the white board and mark the events in the plot from the section they pick. This will give the rest of the class a visual understanding and help the group presenters outline their presentation. They will explain the pyramid they created to the class with the intentions of persuading the class that the chosen character is a tragic hero.

This assignment is designed to teach the students plot and literary tragedy. It is allows the students to practice collecting supportive evidence and form a summary and argument based on textual evidence. In addition, the students will become aware of the current issue of immigration and practice their presenting skills.


Traveling to Other Worlds & The Outsider: The Dystopian Genre

According to the Fourth Edition Dicitonary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory, utopia is “The idea of a place where all is well is of great antiquity”(Cuddon 957).  It is crucial to understand the idea of an ideal universe, or utopia, as it gives birth to an inevitable dystopia. “The seemingly impossibility of utopia (and the many failures to create it) has produced its converse: dystopia or anti-utopia; in some cases almost chiliastic forecasts of the doom awaiting mankind”(Cuddon 959).

What is Dystopia? 

A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control.

Dystopias, through an exaggerated worst case scenario, make a criticism about a current trend, social norm, or political system.

Types of Dystopian Control:

Corporate control: One or more large corporations control society through products, advertising, and/or the media.

Bureaucratic control: Society is controlled by mindless bureaucracy through a tangle of red tape, relentless regulations, and incompetent government officials.

Technological control: Society is controlled by technology- through computers, robots, and/or scientific means.

In dystopian fiction, the initial place of the setting shifts into a dystopia. In the beginning the reader might identify the setting as “normal,” the customs of a real and current society, or as a utopia, appearing as an ideal universe with flawless politics, laws, customs, and conditions. The dystopia world is identified with the setting if a fantasy universe filled with oppressive societal control is evident. There is an illusion of a perfect society maintained via corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control.

The characteristics of the protagonist are rebellious, or radical towards the dystopian society. The protagonist is often referred to as an outsider: “a person who is, in some respects, above and ‘outside’ the society in which he or she lives and perhaps even superior to it”(Cuddon 626).  

read write think

Dystopian Texts:

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Road to Drama: An Irony Between Pain & Pleasure

“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde


Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. New York: Dover Publications, 1990. Print.







“Fences” by Augustus Wilson


Wilson, August. “Fences” Literature & Ourselves. Comp. Bill Day and Sandra Stevenson Waller. Fifth ed. United States: Pearson, 2006. 178-232. Print.







In order for students to understand the genre of drama, the dramatic scene should be explained.

Dramatic Scene:
1. An Important moment is taking place and you stop for this crucial moment.
2. Two or more characters are involved in a particular place and time and something is going on between the characters.
3. The characters must be doing something
4. In real time something is at stake
5. Interaction -People are talking, but they are in their bodies -What are their bodies doing? –
  • gestures -Proxemics- the proxemics you are telling about the relationship of the characters to one another

For an assessment idea, students could be placed into groups and reenact one dramatic scene from one of the texts.

This reenactment must include comprehension of the following:
1. Characterization
2. Conflict
3. Dialogue

The Passageway to Tragedy: The Rise and Fall of a Hero



Green, John. Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton, 2014. Print.

The Fault in Our Stars is a contemporary and young adult novel by John Green. The protagonist Hazel Grace is a sixteen year old struggling with cancer. Hazel’s one desire is to discover the ending to her favorite story and meet the author. She unites with Augustus Waters at support group and his purpose is to make her dream come true. They travel through a series of events motivated to find the ending. Hazel and Augustus are hero’s because they are fighting to stay alive. Hazel realizes the real ending she was truly searching for, but a tragic ending is inevitable.

In order for students to analyze Hazel and Augustus as heros, or a tragic hero, they must understand the plot structure of a classic tragedy. For this reason, this text is paired with Beowulf, a classic tragedy. For both texts students should define the protagonist’s main desires and track the plot. Then, compare it to Freytag’s pyramid.








While reading both texts, students should keep a writing journal where they track the events throughout the narrative. The events they choose should relate to the protagonist of their choice. After reading, a compare and contrast essay will benefit their comprehension of  a classic tragedy. Students should use evidence from each text.

Essential questions:
What are the deep desires of the protagonists and how does the plot work against them?
Explain the perspective of each protagonist before and after the climax.


51kfpKNBB9L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Anonymous. Beowulf. Trans. Burrton Raffel. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. Print. Signet Classics.