1. Ask students to share social or political issues that they feel passionately about or that they consider to be controversial (e.g., war, marriage equality, universal health care). Write the list on the board.
2. Inform students that they will discuss a painting and poem that reflect social issues deemed to be very important by the individuals who created them.
Man with a Hoe: A Painting, A Poem, A Symbol
1. Display a reproduction of Man with a Hoe by Jean-François Millet. Give students time to view the work of art and then share their initial observations. Lead a discussion about the work of art using the following questions as prompts:
What do you notice about this figure?
What can you infer about him from his facial expression, pose, and clothing? (His slack-jawed mouth and the way he's leaning on the hoe make him look tired. His clothing looks plain and appropriate for working in the fields.)
What else do you notice about him?
What do you notice about the setting? (Half of the ground in the foreground is tilled; the other half has weeds.)
What can you deduce about the time of day? (Based on the color of the sky and the weariness of the man, the painting could portray the end of the day. It might also portray the morning; the man could be weary from several days of work and is portrayed taking a break.)
Based on the details you noticed about the figure and setting, what is the man doing? (He is resting after a long day of working, he is taking a break while working, etc.)
What do you think he is thinking?
2. Inform students that when the painting was exhibited in 1863 in the Paris Salon, critics attacked it. Share background information about the work of art on the handout "Critical Responses to Millet's Man with a Hoe." You may wish to view the video "Man with a Hoe, Jean-François Millet." Ask students the following questions:
Are you surprised by the reaction of the critics? Why or why not?
Do you agree with the critics that the artist is making a political statement about agricultural laborers? Why or why not?
3. Inform students that, by the late 1800s, Millet's Man with a Hoe was in a well-known private collection in San Francisco. The painting became one of the most famous in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, and it inspired an American poet named Edwin Markham to write a poem titled "The Man with the Hoe" in 1899. Tell students that poems written about works of art are called ekphrastic poems. Distribute copies of Markham's poem and give students time to read it silently. Invite them to look up the definitions of any words they do not know. Have students take turns reading lines of the poem aloud.
4. Lead a discussion about the poem using the following prompts:
How do you think the speaker of the poem feels about the man with a hoe? Where do you see evidence in the poem to support your ideas? (He may feel sympathy for the man, as evidenced by lines such as "And on his back the burden of the world." He may look down on the man, as evidenced by lines such as "There is no shape more terrible than this.")
Markham uses hyperbole throughout his poem (e.g., "Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans," "This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?"). How does the poet use hyperbole to persuade the reader? (He may use hyperbole to make the man's situation seem even graver in order to elicit sympathy for him.)
How else does do you think the poet persuades readers to empathize with the man with the hoe?
Why do you think the speaker of the poem refers to the man as "a brother to the ox"? (He relates the man to something nonhuman, an animal that is used in the agricultural industry.)
What do you think the speaker means when he describes the man as showing "The emptiness of ages in his face"? (This could mean that the unfairness of this farmer's situation has been an issue for many years).
In 1900 Markham described the man with the hoe as "the symbol of betrayed humanity, the toiler ground down through ages of oppression, through ages of social injustice." How do you think he is a symbol of oppression and social injustice?
Based on what you see in the poem, who does the speaker suggest has betrayed the man (e.g., society, political leaders)?
5. Draw a Venn diagram on the board and have students describe the similarities and differences between the poem and the painting.
6. Explain that the poem was published in the San Francisco Examiner in 1899 and was soon reprinted in thousands of newspapers and magazines across the country. As appropriate to your students' grade level, share background information about the poem provided on the handout "Responses to Markham's 'The Man with the Hoe.'" You may wish to share additional details about the poet with information provided on the Poetry Foundation's Web site (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/edwin-markham). Next, ask students the following questions:
How does the American public's reaction to Markham's poem differ from the French critics' reaction to Millet's painting?
The painting was created in France after the European Revolutions of 1848, a series of revolts against monarchies. How might these events have affected the public's response to the painting?
The poem was published when the United States was changing from a mostly rural nation to a mostly urban one. How do you think the rise of labor unions affected the public's response to the poem?
What other significant historical events and changes were happening in the late 19th century in the United States (e.g., social restructuring as a result of the building of the railroads and westward expansion; the abolition of slavery)? How might these events and changes have impacted American society's reaction to Markham's poem?
Students Persuade with Poetry
1. Have students select a work of art that depicts a subject with which they empathize. Students may choose from among the list of related works of art listed in this lesson plan or find another work that relates to the issues identified during the warm-up. Have students write a poem that is meant to persuade a reader to feel empathy for the subject depicted in the work of art. They should include hyperbole, strong verbs, and sensory details in their poems.
2. Organize a poetry reading and invite students to read their poems while the related works of art are projected on a screen behind them.
Have students research important leaders in the labor movement, such as Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and then write poetry inspired by their work.
Common Core Standards for English Language Arts
RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
RL.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
RL.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
3. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Speaking and Listening
1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards
R.CCR.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
R.CCR.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
R.CCR.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
R.CCR.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
W.CCR.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
W.CCR.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
SL.CCR.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Visual Arts Content Standards for California State Public Schools
4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.
4.2 Compare the ways in which the meaning of a specific work of art has been affected over time because of changes in interpretation and context.
4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.2 Identify the intentions of artists creating contemporary works of art and explore the implications of those intentions.
4.3 Analyze and articulate how society influences the interpretation and message of a work of art.