SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 to 1991; ELA: Magical Realism; expository phase, setting, character development, theme;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Friendship; Disabilities;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect and Caring.

AGE: 13+; MPAA Rating PG-13;

Comedy-Drama; 1990; 105 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

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TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.


Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.


Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.


A mad inventor has created an artificial man, raising him as a son in a castle overlooking a stereotypical 1950s housing development. The inventor dies, however, before his machine, called Edward, is fitted with hands. Edward is left with large, sharp scissors for hands. After being discovered by a compassionate door-to-door cosmetic saleswoman, Edward moves into the life of a tacky suburban community where he is accepted, at least initially. In a short time, complications develop and the forces of fear, greed, gossip, and exploitation combine to drive Edward back to the castle where he will live alone but carry the memory of having loved and having been loved.


Selected Awards:

1992 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films: Best Fantasy Film; 1991 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Makeup; 1991 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical (Johnny Depp); 1992: Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Nominations: Best Actress (Winona Ryder); Best Costumes (Colleen Atwood); Best Music (Danny Elfman); Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin); Best Supporting Actress (Dianne Wiest).


Featured Actors:

Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands; Winona Ryder as Kim; Dianne Wiest as Peg; Anthony Michael Hall as Jim; Kathy Baker as Joyce; Robert Oliveri as Kevin; Conchata Ferrell as Helen; Caroline Aaron as Marge; Dick Anthony Williams as Officer Allen; O-Lan Jones as Esmeralda; Vincent Price as The Inventor.



Tim Burton.


Edward Scissorhands is an example of the genre of magical realism and provides an opportunity to show irony and a serious theme in a popular movie.

Students will watch an example of magical realism. Discussion questions and assignments at the end of the film will provide students the opportunity to review and apply the concept of irony, to discuss or write about theme, to exercise critical thinking, and engage in values clarification.


Minor: The film contains mild profanity, sexual images and violence.


This is a touching story with ethical lessons that a family can watch together and discuss in terms of tolerance and open-mindedness.


After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.


1. In its effort to ridicule conformity, the film stereotypes 1950s culture. What examples of stereotyping do you see in this film?

Suggested Response:

Stereotypes in this film include: interior and exterior decorating, clothing, suburban experiences such as barbecues and card games on Friday nights for men; the vacuous lives of both men and women; attitudes of intolerance; hypocrisy; the sexually frustrated housewife, bullies, and door-to-door saleswomen. Peg is stereotyped as a static and unflappable character.


2. Give examples of irony in this film that illuminate meaning and also entertain.

Suggested Response:

Examples are: (1) On the talk show, it is mentioned that without scissors for hands, Edward would not be special. It is ironic that this special quality is the source of his loneliness and pain. (2) After the break-in attempt, a policeman asks the doctor who had apparently evaluated Edward’s mental state about Edward’s condition. The doctor says that Edward has been suffering from years of isolation. He cannot tell right from wrong. He has underdeveloped awareness of reality. When asked whether Edward will be OK out in the world, the doctor responds, “Oh yeah, he’ll be fine.” This suggests that society itself is so disturbed that the negative traits mentioned are not seen as handicaps. (3) When Edward rushes to save Kevin, it is ironic that he hurts the boy and is seen as dangerous rather than helpful. (4) It is ironic that Edward is both drawn into the community for his unique qualities and later rejected by it, ostensibly for those same unique qualities. However, in reality, Edward is rejected because he refuses to allow some townspeople to use him for their own purposes and for other selfish reasons; (5) It is ironic that the only signs of nature in town are either topiary or plastic Christmas trees and these are not natural at all. Edward, the concoction of a scientist, has more human emotions and is more like a caring human being, than the people in the community.


3. What humorous elements in the film serve to point out something important?

Suggested Response:

There are many answers to this question. When the police confront Edward they tell him to drop his weapons. His scissors serve as his hands; they are not weapons and cannot be dropped. The police then say, “Cuff him,” another reference to his hands. These lines show the inability of the police to actually see what is before them just as the townspeople have been unable to see the real Edward. Bursting the waterbed and trying to eat at the dinner table are but two of several examples of humorous situations based on Edward’s struggle to fit into the social structure. They point to the absurdity of trying to fit in. It’s funny when Edward sits on the curb and is joined by a dog with hair in its eyes. As upset as Edward has been and as decorative as he has been in the use of his dog-hair trimming skills, he neatly snips the hair so that the dog can see. It shows that Edward understands what is important.


4. What happened to cause the community to turn on Edward?

Suggested Response:

It wasn’t just one thing, but several. Each of the main characters who turned on Edward did so due to their own character flaws such as pride, paranoia, jealousy, or venality. Any description that shows some of these traits is a good response.


5. Some argue that the 1950’s style in terms of neighborhoods, interior decorating, and fashion is being held up to ridicule in this film. Argue for or against this assertion.

Suggested Response:

All opinions, backed up by references to details in the film, are acceptable.


6. What images of conformity are shown in the opening 15 minutes of the film?

Suggested Response:

The tract houses are painted in pastels. The cars that flow from the driveways at the same time in the morning are painted in similar tones. The clothing worn by most of the characters is similar in style and color. The landscaping styles are the same early in the film, and after Edward begins to trim the shrubs, the entire neighborhood sports similar sculptured bushes.


7. What is subjected to stereotyping in this film?

Suggested Response:

Stereotypes in this film include: suburban experiences such as barbecues and card games on Friday nights for men; the vacuous lives of both men and women; attitudes of intolerance; hypocrisy; and trite characters such as the sexually frustrated housewife, bullies, and door-to-door saleswomen.


8. Can you find an example of an anachronism in this movie, something that would not be a part of the l950s yet appears in the film?

Suggested Response:

Anachronisms include: references to Velcro; VCRs; message machines; talk shows; waterbeds; microwaves; big screen TVs; and aerobics classes.


9. Peg seems to be a completely static character who responds on one affective level to all events. Do you agree or disagree?

Suggested Response:

There are several examples of Peg’s unflappability. Each shows an unwillingness to challenge the expectation that women will behave themselves and follow the social rules. Peg, as a stereotypical fifties housewife, approaches the ominous appearing castle with the same comportment seen when she knocks on the doors of her neighbors. She is following the Avon method of selling products. When she decides to move Edward into her home, she does it with the same matter-of-fact approach that she has consistently shown. When the dangers that Edward presents become known to her, she says she didn’t think about what would happen were she to bring Edward home. Thinking was not a popular art in the lives of 1950’s suburban women.


10. Door-to-door sales, done by companies such as Avon and Fuller Brush, were common in the 1950s. Speculate as to why they may have been profitable back then but are profitable no longer.

Suggested Response:

Car culture has made suburban isolation a thing of the past. Malls and huge shopping complexes were developed in suburban communities where one-stop shopping offered consumers anything they could possibly want. Recently, more variety and better prices have become available on the Internet.


11. What is the role played by gossip in this movie?

Suggested Response:

Gossip establishes the stereotypical character of women in housing tracts. They have nothing more interesting in their lives than the business of others. It is also used as a means of communicating, spreading the word about Edward and fomenting fear.


12. Which of the shapes Edward sculpts from the plants seem to have meaning?

Suggested Response:

Responses will vary. At the castle Edward had sculpted a huge, open-palmed hand. He sculpted a dinosaur family and later Peg points out how he had created an image of her family in his topiary. Hands and families show what is missing in Edward’s life.


13. What is the most important revelation to come from Edward’s appearance on the talk show?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. Edward says that friends are the most important part of his new life in the suburbs. When one audience participant comments that if he had regular hands, he wouldn’t be special, Peg says that he will always be special.


14. Betrayal plays an important part in the film. How is Edward betrayed?

Suggested Response:

Jim, who should be a friend, manipulates Edward into breaking into his father’s room to steal money. Kim, who should be loyal to Edward, does not prevent this episode from occuring. Joyce claims that Edward assaulted her when Edward does not play along with her sexual games. When Edward tells the Boggs family about the encounter with Joyce, he is ignored.


15. Edward grows hostile after he is accused of hurting Kim. What does he do to ventilate his feelings?

Suggested Response:

Edward cuts off his clothing, slashes wall paper and towels, and later slashes tires and cuts limbs off of the plants he had sculpted.


16. Where in the film is innocence shown?

Suggested Response:

Edward is innocent in virtually every act because his intentions and his actions are in sync. He has no ulterior motives and is not trying to exploit his presence in the community. Peg innocently wants Edward to move into her home. She feels compassion and has no desire to exploit Edward or his talents. Kim responds to Edward innocently as does her little brother Kevin who takes Edward to show-and-tell, where all of the children enjoy Edward and are not interested in exploiting him.


17. How does the conformist mentality of the characters create a mob?

Suggested Response:

At the end of the film, after Kim has told Edward to run and Jim has threatened violence, a combination of fear and curiosity drive the townspeople to follow Edward into the castle despite the fact that the policeman told them that the show was over and they should go home. Led into the castle grounds by Joyce, the mob sees Jim’s body, which is of little interest, and leaves as soon as Kim shows them a scissorhand device that she found in the inventor’s workroom. She claims the hand is Edward’s and tells them that Jim and Edward killed one another. With the conflict over, the neighbors go home.



See Question #12 in the Discussion Questions.

1. Who are Edward’s true friends?

Suggested Response:

Kim is Edward’s friend even though Kim does not prevent Jim from getting Edward to help him break into the room to get his father’s money. She comes through in the end by protecting Edward from the angry mob of townspeople.



2. What does this film tell us about people with disabilities?

Suggested Response:

That they are people just like others with their own set of special talents and limitations.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.



(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)


1. What character trait among the people in Peg’s suburb would have allowed Edward to exist in the human community?

Suggested Response:

More respect for Edward as a human being.



(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)


See Questions relating to Friendship above.


Lesson Plan: Review Of Literary Devices And Writing Exercises Using Edward Scissorhands.


Edward Scissorhands provides an opportunity to review literary devices which have been taught in prior lessons and to exercise writing skills, using a popular movie. In the alternative, teachers can edit the materials to focus on teaching about a few literary devices and show how they are used in a story told by a popular film.

Objectives/Student Outcomes:

Students will review and confirm existing knowledge concerning literary devices, exercise critical thinking, and practice writing expository paragraphs. In the alternative, teachers can edit the materials, so that students will learn about a few literary devices, see their use in a story and in a movie, and practice their writing skills.

Listing Literary Devices Used in the Story – Student Handout

Delete any literary devices which are not appropriate for the class watching the film. Teachers should feel free to substitute definitions that they prefer or which are used in their curriculum materials. Click here for a version of the handout in a word processing program suitable to be distributed to the class or modified by the teacher. Review the handout with the class or have students read it before watching the film.


A List of Literary Devices


1. Allegory: the use of characters or events in an effort to make a connection to characters or events that occur in life; similar to parable or fable.


2. Anachronism: elements of scenery of characters that do not fit into the time period presented in the work.


3. Antagonist: the character or force in the story that works against the protagonist and is responsible for the conflict that drives the story.


4. Complication: an element of plot that bring more problems or erect barriers for the story’s protagonist.


5. Denouement: the final unwinding of the elements of plot brought about by resolution.


6. Empathy: a feeling of identification with a character or a situation in a story.


7. Expository Phase: the first part of a story that introduces time period, setting, characters, and conflict.


8. Fantasy: the use of unreal situations, events, and characters in a story.


9. Flashback: returning to an earlier time in the story to reveal something important to understanding the overall meaning of the work.


10. Framework Narrative: a plot device that opens and closes with a narrator who is telling the story; the story is thus framed within the limits of the narrator’s experience.


11. Hyperbole: exaggeration or overstatement for dramatic effect.


12. Imagery: the use of description or pictures that create sensory responses.


13. Irony: there are several types; all of them involve a difference between what is perceived or expected and what is intended. Verbal irony is a statement in which what is said is the opposite of what is meant. Situational irony occurs when there is a meaningful discrepancy between what is intended or expected and what actually happens. Dramatic irony occurs when there is a contrast between the reality perceived by one or more of the characters and what is known by the audience or the reader.


14. Lampoon: a satirical presentation of a character or a situation that holds the character up to ridicule or attack.


15. Metaphor: the comparison between unlike objects which equates one to the other.


16. Moral: the lesson learned through the resolution of the conflict in the story.


17. Motif: any repeated element in a work that points in the direction of a theme or that serves as a unifying agent.


18. Pathos: the quality in literature which stimulates a deep sense of pity, sympathetic sorrow, or tenderness in the audience or reader.


19. Persona: the role a character assumes in the presentation of the story.


20. Plot Line: the unfolding of the story, including exposition, rising action, climax, resolution, and denouement.


21. Point of View: the perspective from which the story is told; point of view may be omniscient or limited; it may be first or third person.


22. Protagonist: the central character in the conflict in a story with whom the observers’ sympathies lie.


23. Symbolism: the use of an object to suggest an idea.


24. Theme: the central meaning of the work.


25. Tone: the author’s or director’s attitude toward the subject of the work shown through the pervasive emotion presented.


[End of Student Handout]



Writing Descriptive Paragraphs Containing Literary Analysis

To provide practice in writing short descriptive paragraphs, teachers may want to pause the film at an appropriate point and allow students time to write one or more paragraphs described in the assignments set out below. Students should be provided with a rubric regarding length of paragraph, topic sentences, the use of details to support conclusions or opinions, and any other criteria by which their efforts will be measured.



1. Write a description of the suburban neighborhood in which Peg lives and into which she brings Edward. Be sure to focus on the use of color and conformity in terms of lawns and the shape and size of structures. End with an opinion about the quality of the neighborhood.


2. Write a description of the interior of Peg’s home. Evaluate the aesthetic quality of the way in which Peg’s home was decorated.


3. Write a description of the castle from which Edward emerges into the suburbs. Begin with a distant look at the structure from the view of the suburbs and then describe details about the plants, the interior, the assembly line of robots, etc.



1. Write a one paragraph description of three female characters who play important roles in illustrating the mentality of the suburban community. In each paragraph, provide a description of the important traits of the character and come to an opinion about the stereotype that the character represents.


2. Write a one paragraph description of three neighborhood men who appear in the barbecue scene. Describe the stereotypes presented by each of these characters and justify your opinion.


3. Describe the character of Peg as she is shown early in the film and how she begins to see things differently as the story advances. Write about how she looks, what she says, how she feels, and what she does.


4. Describe the character of Esmeralda. Write about how she looks, what she says, how she feels, and what he does. Pay close attention to how her words and actions add danger and fear to Edward’s experience in the suburbs.


5. Describe the character of Jim. Write about how he looks, what he says, how he feels. and what he does. Pay close attention to how his words, his jealousy, and his intolerance endanger Edward.


6. Describe the character of Joyce. Write about how she looks, what she says, how she feels, what she does, and how her sexual frustration leads to danger for Edward.


7. Describe the character of the old inventor who created Edward. Write about how he looks, what he says, how he feels, and what he does.


8. Describe Edward, including his facial expressions, the colors he wears, his way of walking, his voice, and his affect.



1. Analyze the attitude the film takes toward suburbia.


2. Analyze how increased intolerance develops in the community due to gossip, innuendo, mistakes, and lies.


3. Analyze the progress from early interest in Edward to a desire to exploit his unique talents to fear and finally rejection.


4. Analyze the film’s use of stereotypes in the story’s presentation.


5. Analyze the progress of Kim’s feelings and the changes she experiences in her relationship with Edward.


6. Identify and evaluate the theme of the movie. What is it? Do you agree with it?



1. Evaluate the film’s presentation of various literary devices used to unfold the story. Select at least three of the devices from the list of literary terms presented in the Student Handout.


2. Evaluate the film’s success as an allegory. Does the film succeed in its efforts to leave the viewers with a clear statement of the problems of a conformist society?


3. Evaluate the artistic merit of the settings used in the film, both interior, such as in the homes or in the castle, and exterior, such as the buildings, yards, and the suburban neighborhood as a whole.


4. Evaluate the film’s presentation of its message. Is it effective?


5. Evaluate the film’s ending in terms of the level of satisfaction offered to its viewers. Be sure to address the tying together of the opening and ending scenes where an old woman tells the tale of Edward’s experience in suburbia.


Writing Summaries of Parts of the Movie

1. Summarize the expository phase of the film.


2. Summarize one of the complications that occur as the film progresses. Possible complications to summarize include:

  • Joyce’s attempt to seduce Edward;
  • Peg’s consistent attempts to use Avon products to cover Edward’s scars;
  • The growing problem between Jim and Edward. Be sure to include the effort to break into Jim’s home;
  • Esmeralda’s influence in fomenting fear of Edward;
  • The events that shift Kim’s loyalty from Jim to Edward;
  • The progress of Edward’s plant-trimming and hair-cutting skills.


3. Summarize the final episode in which Jim and Edward fight and in which Kim finds a way to save Edward from the angry mob.


4. Write a summary of the plot as a whole. Be sure to include the ending.

Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:


1. Write an essay in which you specify how intolerance progresses in the community shown in the film from early interest in Edward to a desire to exploit his unique talents and finally to fear and rejection. Address the power of gossip, innuendo, mistakes, and lies in bringing about these changes.


2. People who are valued for their individuality or appreciated because they are different are usually not as far outside the norm as Edward. Write informally about a unique individual you know personally or through mass media. Describe the characteristics that make this person a nonconformist and explain whether or not these characteristics have led to fame or rejection.


3. Develop definitions of magical realism and science fiction. Show your sources and use more than one source for each. Then write an essay evaluating whether Edward Scissorhands is magical realism or science fiction.

Additional Assignments.

Students can be asked to submit examples or illustrations of the literary terms that are listed in the student handout. The following provides suggested responses:

1. Allegory:

Suggested Response:

In allegorical terms: Edward stands for innocent person, different from everyone else, living in isolation and loneliness, who tried to make a connection with others and live in society. The suburb is the world/society. The people in the suburbs are the people in the world.


2. Anachronism:

Suggested Response:

References are made throughout the film to waterbeds, Velcro, aerobics classes, VCRs, microwaves, message machines, and other objects which were not a part of consumer culture in the 1950’s.


3. Antagonist:

Suggested Response:

Jim serves as the primary antagonist because he stands in for the community when Edward is being pushed back into isolation. However, the real antagonist is the small-minded selfishness and conformity of the community.


4. Complication:

Suggested Response:

New difficulties arise for Edward when he rejects Joyce, helps Jim with the break-in, and accidentally cuts Kevin in a rescue attempt. These are all complications.


5. Denouement:

Suggested Response:

The film’s conflict is resolved when Jim is killed and Kim reports that Edward is dead as well. The neighbors go home and the framework narrative returns to the old woman telling the story at bedtime. The scene with the old woman is a denouement.


6. Empathic Reaction:

Suggested Response:

Viewers empathize with many things, including Edward’s feelings as an outsider, Peg’s desire to nurture him, Kim’s compassion, and the curiosity experienced by the neighborhood women.


7. Expository phase:

Suggested Response:

The setting is established with views of the tract housing and the castle. The time period is established through the use of l950 images in setting and fashion. Peg and Edward are introduced through Peg’s desire to sell her products. The problem is established as soon as Edward moves into Peg’s home and now must assimilate into the family and the community.


8. Fantasy:

Suggested Response:

The castle and Edward himself are a manifestation of fantasy; they do not exist in reality.


9. Flashback:

Suggested Response:

Three times in the film Edward is drawn back to the time he lived with his inventor. We see him learning lessons, hearing poetry, and receiving hands just prior to the death of the inventor.


10. Framework Narrative:

Suggested Response:

An old woman revealed at the end to be Kim, opens and closes the tale of Edward Scissorhands in a bedroom where she is telling the story to a child at nighttime.


11. Hyperbole:

Suggested Response:

This is a term in literature that can be seen in film through exaggerated visuals. The exaggeration shows up most vividly in the looks, clothing, and behavior of Joyce.


12. Imagery:

Suggested Response:

There are striking visual images throughout the film including the castle, the architecture of the neighborhood, and the topiary statues created by Edward. The visual that most provokes sensory response in the viewers is the ice sculpture and the snowfall that results from Edward’s work on the art piece.


13. Irony:

Suggested Response:

Examples are: (1) On the talk show, it is mentioned that without scissors for hands, Edward would not be special. It is ironic that this special quality is the source of his loneliness and pain. (2) After the break-in attempt, a policeman asks the doctor who had apparently evaluated Edward’s mental state about Edward’s condition. The doctor says that Edward has been suffering from years of isolation. He cannot tell right from wrong. He has underdeveloped awareness of reality. When asked whether Edward will be OK out in the world, the doctor responds, “Oh yeah, he’ll be fine.” This suggests that society itself is so disturbed that the negative traits mentioned are not seen as handicaps. (3) When Edward rushes to save Kevin, it is ironic that he hurts the boy and is seen as dangerous rather than helpful. (4) It is ironic that Edward is both drawn into the community for his unique qualities and later rejected by it for those same unique qualities. (5) It is ironic that the only signs of nature in town are either topiary or plastic Christmas trees. Edward, the concoction of a scientist, seems more natural than both the plant life and the people in the community.


14. Lampoon:

Suggested Response:

Many things are lampooned in this film. Perhaps the chief victim is the mentality of 1950s housewives.


15. Metaphor:

Suggested Response:

Edward himself is a metaphor; he can be compared to an outsider, a fringe member of society who suffers from an inability to fit in. The people of the housing tract can be seen as a metaphor for a conformist society.


16. Moral:

Suggested Response:

Individuals with unique characteristics should be accepted into the community rather than feared and exploited.


17. Motif:

Suggested Response:

Topiary is a motif that suggests artificiality. It also suggests that beauty can be created by someone laboring under difficult handicaps and that beauty is different from the conformist uniformity of the suburb.


18. Pathos:

Suggested Response:

Edward’s sadness, shown through facial expression, engenders pity.


19. Plot Line:

Suggested Response:

An outcast tries to become a part of a community which, responding to fear and jealousy, rejects him and forces him back into isolation.


20. Point of view.

Suggested Response:

The film uses an omniscient point of view,


21. Protagonist:

Suggested Response:

Edward is the character about whom the audience is concerned. He struggles against the small-minded selfishness and conformity of the community.


22. Symbol:

Suggested Response:

The ice sculpture and the snow that flows from it is a symbol for purity.


23. Theme:

Suggested Response:

The central meaning of the film is that conformity destroys individuality and the capacity to behave in truly human ways.


24. Tone:

Suggested Response:

The mood of the play is dark, with comic relief.


See Additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

This Learning Guide was written by Mary RedClay and James Frieden and was last revised on May 27, 2013.

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