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Teaching Guide

Teaching Rebecca

The horror!

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The last thing you want is blood-curdling screams coming from your classroom. Well, unless you're teaching the grand-mama of Gothic horror: Rebecca. While you probably won't get screams in this era of graphic gore, you can at least get students to understand the origin of a genre.

In this guide you will find

  • lessons exploring the legacy of Gothic lit, from Twilight to True Blood and back again.
  • an activity on spooky stories to tell in the dark.
  • discussion questions exploring themes of jealousy and economic class.

And much more.

Leave the psychological torture to Du Maurier, and let us ease your mental torment with this teaching guide.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
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  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
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Instructions for You

Objective: Brooding, moody teens? Check. Love of all things Gothic? Check. Now it is time to have some real fun and see if you have any budding M. Night Shyamalans or Alfred Hitchcocks in the class. In this activity, students will apply their character analysis skills and knowledge of Gothic story elements to writing their own stories featuring our mysterious Rebecca as their main character. This activity can be completed in two class periods.

Materials Needed:

  • Printed Gothic pictures posted around the room (and on the Gothic wiki if you did the previous lesson)
  • Student journals 
  • Computers with Internet 
  • Halloween soundtrack and decorations
  • Copies of Rebecca

Step 1: Print and number diverse pictures from collections of Gothic art. Try to mix landscapes and portraits and level of complexity/depth. We know they like vampires, but you'll find some really cool inspiring art out there that's not all vampire related. To find your images, simply perform a Google image search or check out these sites:

Before class, post about 10 pictures all around the room. Feel free to lower the lights, dress in a Gothic costume, and decorate the classroom for real ambiance. Sure your students will think you are batty (ha!), but who doesn't love some good synthetic cobwebs and a rattling chain/howling wind soundtrack? Why not serve some gummy spiders and black licorice while you're at it?

Encourage students to arrive wearing something Gothic for this lesson, and you could even challenge them to bring in their own examples of Gothic images. (Though, perhaps you want to warn the principal so he/she doesn't think there has been some Goth overtaking of your school.)

Step 2: If you haven't already beaten them over the head with Gothic knowledge, spend just a few minutes at the start of class reviewing the basic elements of Gothic literature and how those elements play out in Rebecca. (Feel free to skim over the information from the first two lessons for reference, Shmoop links, and discussion questions.)

Show students a few Gothic movie posters (Does this generation even know why we have movie posters?) and discuss how images and art play a role in conveying mood and suspense. Check out this link for some possibilities.

For further inspiration, introduce M. Night Shyamalan, who was a huge success as a filmmaker before he was 40 and is known for several great suspense movies with twist endings (Sixth Sense, The Village, Signs, The Happening, Lady in the Water). Feel free to show one or both of these interviews about his craft and inspiration, and see if students can connect what they know about these or other films to the Gothic elements you've been discussing.

Step 3: Now the eerie work begins. Have students travel around your haunted classroom to the pictures of their choice. Ideally, you want them to visit about four, and you may want to use a timer to help them move picture to picture, spending about 7-10 minutes with each image. For their top four images, have students do the following:

  • Write the number of the picture in your journal.
  • Give the picture a creative title.
  • Spend 5 minutes "quickwriting." This can be phrases, words, sentences, or a paragraph about the picture that focuses on its Gothic elements. Does the picture seem to be telling a story? Does it inspire a poem? Does it remind you of any scenes in Rebecca? If you get stuck, start by describing the image in as much detail as possible.

Students sometimes really like this and actually ask to do it again in a second class period. We never say no.

Step 4: Once students have had their fill of Gothic images and gummy spiders, they should choose one of the four images they responded to and use their journal entries to write their own short Gothic story (you can determine the length—we suggest 1000-1500 words). Here are the rules:

  • Rebecca (who we never actually meet in the novel) will be your main character. 
  • You must use clues from the text to ensure that your Rebecca is authentic to the novel, but remember, our narrator in the novel is a bit unreliable, so this is also an opportunity to guess at what Rebecca might really have been like. Just be sure you can support your choices with text evidence.
  • The image you choose can simply be inspiration, or it can become an integral part of your story by providing the specific setting or additional characters. 
  • Think of your story as a sort of prequel to the novel (who doesn't love a prequel?). Give us a scene from Rebecca's life before, you know, she was killed. You can jump way back in time and show us Rebecca as a child, or you can write a scene from her marriage. Again, use the text for clues and be sure to make sound inferences.
  • Be sure your finished story would fit into the genre of Gothic lit. You should be able to discuss the Gothic elements you used in your work.

Step 5: It's spooky story night day. Have students share their finished stories via a read-around or by posting their work on the class wiki (if you've done the previous lesson). Encourage students to respond to one another's work through discussion or comments posted on the wiki, and then wrap things up with one final discussion:

  • What Gothic elements did you notice in one another's stories?
  • What did you learn about Rebecca through this activity? Which interpretation of her character did you choose? Which did your classmates choose?
  • Did any of these interpretations strike you as more or less accurate? Why?
  • What text evidence could support some of the interpretations we heard today?
  • Du Maurier could have written the novel with Rebecca as the main character and her death as the climax. Why didn't he? Would this version of the story have the same Gothic tone? Why is it important that Rebecca isn't the main character/narrator? Or do you think she should have been?

Extension/honors activities: If you would like to take their creativity one step further, add on the requirement of a movie poster or movie trailer to go along with the short story.

Instructions for Your Students

Get ready to find your inner M. Night Shyamalan; you know, the guy who created Signs, Sixth Sense, The Village, Lady in the Water… He is a master at creating suspense and then really zinging you with a twist near the end. Now it's your turn to apply what you've learned about Gothic story elements to your own short story featuring Rebecca herself. She deserves a moment on the stage, don't you think?

Step 1: Enter if you dare—our classroom has transformed into a low budget haunted house, complete with creepy music. Humor us and get into the spirit; we might actually have candy.

Step 2: Now that you're all in the mood—or at least faking it—let's review the basic elements of Gothic literature and how those elements play out in Rebecca and other Gothic works.

Images, whether portrayed through words or art, form the backbone of a Gothic piece, creating mood and suspense. Let's start by checking out a few movie posters (you know, those giant things hanging in front of a movie theater now shrunken down on Netflix). Think about how the picture conveys Gothic elements and allows you to make predictions about the movie.

You may not have seen any of the great Alfred Hitchcock movies, but check out M. Night Shyamalan, a contemporary filmmaker with at least 6 suspense movies under his belt. Let's see what he has to say about his craft and inspiration, and try to connect what you know about these or other films to the Gothic elements we've been discussing.

Step 3: Time to move around your haunted classroom and eat gummy spiders—oh, and do some creative writing. You'll visit at least four of the Gothic pictures posted around the room. Spend about 7-10 minutes at each one and complete the following in your notebook:

  • Write the number of the picture in your journal.
  • Give the picture a creative title.
  • Spend 5 minutes "quickwriting." This can be phrases, words, sentences, or a paragraph about the picture that focuses on its Gothic elements. Does the picture seem to be telling a story? Does it inspire a poem? Does it remind you of any scenes in Rebecca? If you get stuck, start by describing the image in as much detail as possible.

Step 4: Once you have had your fill of Gothic images and gummy spiders, you will choose one of the four images you responded to and use your journal entries to write your own short Gothic story (about 1000-1500 words). Wait! Before you go dashing off in a frenzy of excitement, here are the rules:

  • Rebecca (who we never actually meet in the novel) will be your main character. 
  • You must use clues from the text to ensure that your Rebecca is authentic to the novel, but remember, our narrator in the novel is a bit unreliable, so this is also an opportunity to guess at what Rebecca might really have been like. Just be sure you can support your choices with text evidence.
  • The image you choose can simply be inspiration, or it can become an integral part of your story by providing the specific setting or additional characters. 
  • Think of your story as a sort of prequel to the novel (who doesn't love a prequel?). Give us a scene from Rebecca's life before, you know, she was killed. You can jump way back in time and show us Rebecca as a child, or you can write a scene from her marriage. Again, use the text for clues and be sure to make sound inferences.
  • Be sure your finished story would fit into the genre of Gothic lit. You should be able to discuss the Gothic elements you used in your work.

Step 5: It's spooky story night day; ready to claim your screenwriting Oscar? You'll share your finished stories via a read-around or by posting your work on the class wiki. Then we'll wrap things up with one final discussion:

  • What Gothic elements did you notice in one another's stories?
  • What did you learn about Rebecca through this activity? Which interpretation of her character did you choose? Which did your classmates choose?
  • Did any of these interpretations strike you as more or less accurate? Why?
  • What text evidence could support some of the interpretations we heard today?
  • Du Maurier could have written the novel with Rebecca as the main character and her death as the climax. Why didn't he? Would this version of the story have the same Gothic tone? Why is it important that Rebecca isn't the main character/narrator? Or do you think she should have been?

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WANT MORE HELP TEACHING REBECCA?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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