HOME: The Story of Maine

"A Place Apart" - The Story Behind the Image of Maine
Lesson 1: The Image of Maine in Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt

(For use with Module 2, Episode 1)


Guiding Principles

1. A Clear and Effective Communicator

  • Uses oral, written, visual, artistic and technological modes of expression.
  • Reads, listens to and interprets messages from multiple sources.

    2. An Integrative and Informed Thinker

  • Applies knowledge and skills in and across English language arts, visual and performing arts, foreign languages, health and physical education, mathematics, science, social studies, and career preparation.

    Content Area: ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS: Literature and Culture

    Content Standard: Students will use reading, listening, and viewing strategies to experience, understand, and appreciate literature and culture.

    Performance Indicator: Middle Grades (5-8): Students will be able to read literature and view films which illustrate distinct cultures in various types of works and formulate and defend opinions gathered from the experience.

    Content Area: SOCIAL STUDIES: Historical Inquiry, Analysis, and Interpretation

    Content Standard: Students will learn to evaluate resource material such as documents, artifacts, maps, artworks, and literature, and to make judgments about the perspectives of the authors and their credibility when interpreting current historical events.

    Performance Indicator: Middle Grades (5-8): Students will be able to identify ethnic and cultural perspectives missing from an historical account and describe these points of view.

  • Students will:
    • Analyze excerpts from Babbitt for accuracy and socio-economic point of view.
    • Rewrite a section of Babbitt from the perspective of a Maine guide.
    • Excerpt from Babbitt, with brief biography of Sinclair Lewis
    • Vocabulary Challenge Sheet
    • Assignment Sheet #1 and Grading Rubric
    2-3 class periods, with 1-2 weeks at home to complete assignment
    • After viewing "A Place Apart": The Story Behind the Image of Maine, discuss the video with students. Ask them to recount what they learned about tourism in Maine during the 19th century and early 20th century, and to explain whether or not they think the early images of Maine as shown in the film are similar to the image of Maine that people have today.

    • Introduce Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt excerpts to students. The novel is mentioned in the video. The image of Maine as a place apart plays an important role in this book; Babbitt fantasizes about leaving his cares behind and going to get away from it all in the Maine woods. But what about the people who live in Maine year round, like the guides? Do they feel that they live in "a place apart"? Have students read the brief biography of Sinclair Lewis and the excerpts from Babbitt printed on their handout. Depending on the reading level of your class, you may want to read it together, have students read it in pairs, or on their own.

    • Ask students to write down any words they are unfamiliar with on their Vocabulary Challenge Sheets. Lewis uses a lot of 1920s slang, such as "plunks," "beef about it," "lounge-lizards," etc. He also uses other language that may challenge your students. Ask students to make guesses as to what each word means and write their guesses next to the word. Then, have them look the words up in the dictionary, and write the correct definition next to their guesses. Some of the slang words may not appear in the dictionary, in which case students can compare their answers and decide which seems to be the most accurate.

    • Discuss the excerpt with students. Ask questions like the following:
      • Who is Babbitt? Who is Paul? What is their relationship?
      • Why do they want to go to Maine without their families?
      • Where in Maine do they go? Where do you think this might be located?
      • How do they get there? Do they enjoy their trip? How can you tell?
      • How does Sinclair Lewis describe the guides they meet?
      • How does Lewis depict Maine? Do you think his descriptions are accurate? Why or why not? How might the descriptions differ if they were written by a native Mainer?
      • What might Babbitt and Paul's experience of the Maine woods be like if they were women?
      • What economic class do you think Babbitt and Paul fit into (i.e. upper, middle, or lower class)? Why? (You may need to define these socio-economic divisions with students before they can answer this question.)
      • What economic class do you think the Maine guides represented in the passage might fit into? Why?
      • How can someone's economic class inform the way he or she sees the world?

    • Hand out the Assignment #1 sheet to students. Go over the directions and the grading rubric with the class. Students should work independently. Give students enough time in class and/or at home to complete their assignments.

    • Designate a day in class when students can share their writing with their classmates. Have students evaluate their own work according to the rubric. Evaluate them yourself using the same standards. Extensions:
      • Invite a Maine guide to visit your classroom and discuss his or her work with the students.
      • Have students write about their own socio-economic class and how they feel that affects the way they see the world.
      • Have students visit www.maineguides.com for a look at working Maine guides in the state today. Encourage them to send an email to one or two of the guides.
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