Subject: Literature/Literary Devices: Theme

Ages: 14+

Length: Video: 8 minutes; Lesson: one 45 – 55 minute class period.

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Hawthorne tells a story about a young man who leaves his wife, Faith, to explore the dark side by going into the forest at night to see what evils lurk there. He has an appointment to meet a stranger who can be seen as the personification of the devil. The stranger shows to Goodman Brown the hypocrisy and evil of the allegedly good people in his town and his family. The lyrics of “Sympathy for the Devil” communicate the same idea making reference to historical events in an echo of the examples given by the stranger. The events transcend time and are dissimilar in detail showing the broad range of evil in human affairs and the frequent duplicity in human behavior.


Students studying American Literature will gain a sense of the writing of Nathaniel Hawthorne and see connections between his advanced thinking and similar themes found in pop culture. Students will make connections between the written word and other forms of media and be able to analyze and interpret the ideas and express contained therein. They will practice expressing heir ideas in a compare/contrast essay.


The comparison between American literature of the first half of the 19th century and modern rock and roll will engage students and interest them in completing their assignments.


1. Review the story and the video to make sure they are suitable for the class.


2. Print the sections of Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown” that you intend to use to make the comparison between Hawthorne’s literature and the music video. You may want the students to read the story from the beginning since it sets up the situation. The specific paragraphs you will use for comparison to the music begins with “His head being turned back” and a description of the stranger nine paragraphs into the narrative. They end when the stranger says to Brown, ” . . . prithee, don’t kill me with laughing.”


3. On the Internet, look for the rendition of the music video that will work best for the class. A good version can be found at Sympathy for the Devil. Note the drawings on Jagger’s left arm and chest when he takes off his shirt.


4. Photocopy the lyrics for “Sympathy for the Devil” for distribution to the class or write them on the board before the class enters.


5. Ask several to students to describe what the devil and evil means to them. Responses will vary and all serious efforts should be respected. Some students will state that the devil is a real being, the fallen angel Lucifer; others will see the devil as a concept representing a person’s loss of integrity.


6. Introduce the reading by explaining Nathaniel Hawthorne’s place in American Literature. The depth of the presentation will depend upon what students already know about both Hawthorne and the historical period of which he wrote. For information on Puritan society, see TWM’s Learning Guide to The Scarlet Letter. Should your students be assigned to read The Scarlet Letter you will be able to use both this excerpt and the music video to prepare them for the tone and tenor of the novel.


7. Hand out the short story excerpt and read it with the class.


8. Play the video of the song.


9. Tell the class that the song was written in 1968 by the singer, Mick Jagger and the lead guitarist, Keith Richards. You may want to give the class some rock-and-roll history about the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger. Your own personal history in association to this decades-old music may amuse them.


10. Hand out the lyrics (unless you’ve written them on the board) and read pertinent sections with the class. Teachers may want to review some of the historical references in the lyrics with the students. Set out below are the historical references in the lyrics.

And I was round when jesus christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain

Matthew 27:45-46 (Contemporary English Version): “At noon the sky turned dark and stayed that way until three o’clock. Then about that time Jesus shouted, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?'”

Made damn sure that pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, presided over the trial of Jesus. Jesus was charged with conspiring against Rome for having claimed to be “King of the Jews.” Despite the fact that Pilate personally believed Jesus to be innocent of any conspiracy against Rome, he ordered Jesus to be crucified after being pressured by local religious leaders who were opposed to Jesus’ religious teachings. Pilate reportedly said that he “washed his hands” of the matter.

I stuck around st. petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain

During the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks had captured the Tsar and his family. On July 17, 1918 as a royalist army was about to seize control of the town where the Tsar and his family were being held, the Bolsheviks murdered the Tsar and his family. The Bolsheviks feared that if the royal family was liberated they would become a rallying point for the royalist cause. While the Tsar was no innocent, among those killed that day was one of his daughters, a 17-year-old named Anastasia. In defense of the Bolsheviks, the Russian Imperial government was a reactionary regime that had committed many atrocities and was based on a social and political structure that oppressed the vast majority of Russians. They thought that survival of any member of that family would provide a rallying point for the royalist forces. But it is also true, that Anastasia herself was only a child and personally innocent of any crime. And, of course, the Bolsheviks went on to establish the Soviet Union, a state which was extremely oppressive and, under Stalin, committed mass murder on a scale greater than the crimes of Adolf Hitler.

I rode a tank
Held a generals rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

In World War II, the German army developed a new tactic called the “blitzkrieg” meaning “lightning war.” In a “blitzkrieg” offensive, tanks, along with motorized infantry and artillery supported by air power, would concentrate overwhelming force at high speeds against an enemy’s line. Once the lines were penetrated, the motorized elements would wreak destruction, keeping the opposing forces off balance. This was extremely effective against the French, the Polish, and the Russians, at least initially.

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made

From approximately 1525 until 1648, Europe suffered from a series of wars in which religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics played a major role. There were, of course, other contributing reasons for these wars, such as conflicts over territory, political ambition, competition for natural resources, etc. These wars, complicated by the reappearance of the Plague, had a devastating effect on Europe, on a scale similar to the devastation caused by the First and Second World Wars.

I shouted out,
Who killed the Kennedys?

This is a reference to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and of his brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. The next two lines, “When after all/It was you and me” refers to the general theme of the song that evil comes from all humanity.

And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached bombay

This reference is very obscure and there are several theories about it. One is that it refers to “the hippies who in the 1960s and 1970s traveled the ‘Hippie Trail’ by road. Many of them were killed and ripped off by drug peddlers in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those shady deals were probably the ‘traps.'” See Yahoo Answers.


11. Ask students to find similarities in the historical allusions presented in both pieces.

Suggested Response:

The crucifixion of Jesus compares to the whipping of the Quaker woman for her beliefs; the murders of relatives described by Hawthorne’s devil compare to the murder of young Anastasia; the destruction of Indian villages compares to the destruction caused by the blitzkrieg as well as the destruction of the hundred years of religious warfare described in the song.


12. Ask students to look carefully at both pieces and to determine how the characterization of the speaker in the song and the stranger in the story are similar or different.

Suggested Response:

Students will note that each is among the upper classes; each wants recognition, the devil in the story seeks a large congregation and the devil in the song is trying to make sure you know his name and what he’s after.


13. Once students have seen similarities in the thoughts presented in the two pieces, both in terms of the nature of the stranger in the short story and the speaker in the lyrics, they should consider the differences that exist between the two.

Suggested Response:

They will probably note attitude: Hawthorne’s character is condescending, in the song, he is boasting; Hawthorne focuses on hypocrisy whereas the character in the song blames each individual; in Hawthorne’s world there is no question about what the devil wants, but in the song, one of the repeated refrains is “But what’s puzzling you/Is the nature of my game.”


14. To be certain the ideas are clear, ask students to write a list of event since 1950 that involve violence or hypocrisy that might well serve to make the authors’ points with more modern references.


15. Concluding Activity/Assessment:

(a) Using the rubric you normally follow in your essays, instruct the students to write a short compare/contrast essay on the themes of the two works. Tell them to consider the idea that the devil, whose voice appears in each piece, thrives off of the hypocrisy and responsibility for evil that belongs to each of us.

(b) Write a monologue, coming from a character you create, referring to events from our times that show hypocrisy, or write a dialogue between two characters that you create which reveals, again, events from our times and the hypocrisy behind the actions of human beings. As Jaggar says, “it was you and me.”

This Snippet Lesson Plan was first published on January 17, 2011. It was written by Mary RedClay and James Frieden.

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