Lesson Plan: The Greatest Gift By Philip Van Doren Stern
- eddied |ˈedē| verb (eddies, eddying, eddied) [no object] (of water, air, or smoke) move in a circular way: the mists from the river eddied around the banks.
- resentful |rəˈzentfəl| adjective feeling or expressing bitterness or indignation at having been treated unfairly: he was angry and resentful of their intrusion.
- sullen |ˈsələn| adjective bad-tempered and sulky; gloomy: a sullen pout.
- unremarkable |ˌənrəˈmärkəb(ə)l| adjective not particularly interesting or surprising: his early childhood was unremarkable | an unremarkable house.
- noteworthy |ˈnōtˌwərT͟Hē| adjective interesting, significant, or unusual: [with clause] : it is noteworthy that no one at the bank has accepted responsibility for the failure.
- chuckling |ˈCHək(ə)l| verb [no object] laugh quietly or inwardly: I chuckled at the astonishment on her face | [with direct speech] : “That’s a bit strong, isn’t it?” he chuckled.
- satchel |ˈsaCHəl| noun a bag carried on the shoulder by a long strap and typically closed by a flap.
- cinch |sin(t)SH| noun-informal- • chiefly North American a sure thing; a certainty: he was a cinch to take a prize.
- affection |əˈfekSH(ə)n| noun 1 a gentle feeling of fondness or liking: she felt affection for the wise old lady | he won a place in her affections.
- cordially |ˈkôrjəlē| adverb 1 in a warm and friendly way: he was greeted cordially by the archbishop.
- falter |ˈfôltər| verb [no object] speak in a hesitant or unsteady voice: [with direct speech] : “I c-c-can’t,” he faltered.
- awkwardness noun embarrassment, self-consciousness, discomfort, nervousness. 1 the gesture betrayed his momentary awkwardness:
- vespers |ˈvespərz| noun a service of evening prayer in the Divine Office of the Western Christian Church (sometimes said earlier in the day).• a service of evening prayer in other churches.
Source:New Oxford American Dictionary
List of Characters in the story:
George Pratt has a job at the bank as a clerk. A suicidal man who wishes he was never born.
The Stranger He is never identified by name in the story. He grants George his wish. He described as being stout, well past middle age… He wore a moth-eaten old fur cap and a shabby overcoat that was stretched tightly across his paunchy belly.
Hank Biddle He’s the man whose maple tree George scratched with his car. Described as crotchety and old.
Jim Silva A Real Estate Agent in town who is selling the bank.
Marty Jenkins Stole $50,000 from the bank and causing financial problems for the town. He is also Arthur’s brother.
Arthur Jenkins Marty’s brother. An alcoholic who married George’s wife.
Mary Thatcher George’s wife, before he married her.
Harry Pratt George’s younger brother. He drowned because George was not around to save him.
Brownie The dog belonging to George’s parents.
QUESTIONS FOR COMPREHENSION
What holiday is it? Christmas. The stranger states, “It’ll be nice to have a white Christmas.”
What was the one thing George felt was outstanding about the stranger? Unless you saw his bright blue eyes, that is. You couldn’t forget them, for they were the kindest, sharpest eyes you ever saw.)
Describe the stranger: He wore a moth-eaten old fur cap and a shabby overcoat that was stretched tightly across his paunchy belly. He wore a moth-eaten old fur cap and a shabby overcoat that was stretched tightly across his paunchy belly.”
What kind of profession did George think the stranger had? The fellow was probably some sort of peddler, the kind who would go around poking his sharp little nose into other people’s affairs.
The stranger begins to tell George why his life “can’t be that bad.” What are some of the things he tells George? ( “Come, come, it can’t be that bad. You’ve got your job at the bank. And Mary and the kids. You’re healthy, young, and—” )
Why is George “sick of everything”? “…And sick of everything!” George cried. “I’m stuck here in this mudhole for life, doing the same dull work day after day. Other men are leading exciting lives, but I—well, I’m just a small-town bank clerk that even the army didn’t want…”
What wish does George make? “I said I wish I’d never been born,” George repeated firmly. “And I mean it too.”
Describe the stranger’s reaction to George’s wish. The stranger’s pink cheeks glowed with excitement. “Why that’s wonderful! You’ve solved everything. I was afraid you were going to give me some trouble…You wish you’d never been born. All right! OK! You haven’t!”
What is George’s reaction after the stranger grants him his wish? “Nuts!” George snorted and turned away.
Why did the stranger give George the satchel? The stranger ran after him and caught him by the arm. “You’d better take this with you,” he said, holding out his satchel. “It’ll open a lot of doors that might otherwise be slammed in your face.”
What was inside the satchel? He opened the satchel and displayed a number of brushes. “You’d be surprised how useful these brushes can be as introduction—especially the free ones.
What happened when George tried to return the satchel to the stranger? George promptly dropped the brush into the satchel and fumbled with the catch, finally closing it with an angry snap. “Here,” he said, and then stopped abruptly, for there was no one in sight.
What quarrel did George have with Hank Biddle? George felt a sudden burst of affection even for crotchety old Hank Biddle, whose house he was passing. He remembered the quarrel he had had when his car had scraped a piece of bark out of Hank’s big maple tree.
When George inspected the damaged tree in Hank’s yard, what was his reaction? Hank must have repaired the scar or painted it over, for there was no sign of it. George struck a match and bent down to look more closely. He straightened up with an odd, sinking feeling in his stomach. There wasn’t any scar. The bark was smooth and undamaged.
Why did the ‘nonexistent scar’ on the tree bother George? He remembered what the little man at the bridge had said. It was all nonsense, of course, but the nonexistent scar bothered him.
Describe what George saw when he reached the bank where he worked. When he reached the bank, he saw that something was wrong. The building was dark, and he knew he had turned the vault light on…There was a battered old sign fastened on the door. George could just make out the words: FOR RENT OR SALE Apply JAMES SILVA Real Estate. Then he saw a pile of ancient leaves and tattered newspapers in the bank’s ordinarily immaculate doorway.
Who was Jim Silva? In the beginning of the story, George sees the sign outside the bank that reads, “JAMES SILVA Real Estate.” Also, towards the end of the story, “George almost collides with a hurrying figure. It was Jim Silva, the real estate agent.
Why didn’t Jim Silva recognize George? George wished that he’s never been born in the beginning of the story.
Who was Marty Jenkins and what did he do involving the bank? Marty Jenkins! Why, he—” George was about to say that Marty had never worked at the bank—couldn’t have, in fact, for when they had both left school they had applied for a job there and George had gotten it…“Then maybe you heard how he skipped out with fifty thousand dollars. That’s why the bank went broke. Pretty near ruined everybody around here.”
Who was Art Jenkins? What problem did Art have? “Didn’t he have a brother? Seems to me he had a brother named Arthur.” “Art? Oh, sure. But he’s all right. He don’t know where his brother went. It’s had a terrible effect on him, too. Took to drink, he did. It’s too bad—and hard on his wife. He married a nice girl.”
Who did Art Jenkins marry? “Girl named Mary Thatcher,” Silva said cheerfully.
Why did this information disturb George Platt? Before George made his wish, he was married to Mary Thatcher. “For a moment he thought of going straight to Mary. The house next to the church had been given them by her father as a wedding present. Naturally Art Jenkins would have gotten it if he had married Mary.”
Why didn’t George go find Mary right away? He decided to visit his parents and find out more about her.
How did George’s parents behave when he visited them? His father waved toward the door. “Go on in,” he said cordially. “I’ll chain this dog up. She can be mean with strangers.” His mother, who was waiting in the hallway, obviously did not recognize him…“Good evening, ma’am,” he said politely. “I’m from the World Cleaning Company…“How nice,” she said. “You people never gave away such good brushes before.”
What did George find out about Mary from his parents? “…Of course,” his mother said. “We know Mary well.” “Any children?” he asked casually.
“Two—a boy and a girl.”
Who was Harry? George’s younger brother. Over the mantelpiece hung a framed photograph which had been taken on his kid brother Harry’s sixteenth birthday.
Why did George’s mother get upset when Harry’s name was mentioned? His mother turned away, making a strange choking noise in her throat…“You couldn’t have met him,” he said. “He’s been dead a long while. He was drowned the day that picture was taken.”
How did George remember the incident withHarry? George’s mind flew back to the long-ago August afternoon when he and Harry had visited Potter’s studio. On their way home they had gone swimming. Harry had been seized with a cramp, he remembered. He had pulled him out of the water and had thought nothing of it. But suppose he hadn’t been there!
What changes occurred because George Platt did not exist?
- The bank where he worked has closed down because Marty Jenkins had “skipped out” with $50,000 of the bank’s money.
- If George had been born and gone to work at the bank instead of Marty the $50,000 would have never been stolen.
- Mary marries Art Jenkins who is a drunk and a bully.
- George’s brother Harry would not have drowned (George saved him).
Why did the stranger let George live again? Because it was Christmas Eve. “You brought it on yourself. However, since it’s Christmas Eve—”
When George reached Hank Biddle’s house, what did he do first? When he reached Hank Biddle’s house he stopped and walked out into the roadway, peering down anxiously at the base of the big maple tree. The scar was there, thank heaven!
At then end of the story what did George find in his house that made his voice freeze? He did not even have to pick the thing up, for he knew what it was. And he knew that it would have a blue handle and varicolored bristles.
Questions for Literary Analysis
Some examples of themes: regret, misery, love, sadness, happiness, disbelief,
Some examples of Symbolism: Snow can represent purity, cleanliness, a time of festivities (e.g., Christmas, gifts); it can also represent death, coldness, (some people freeze in the snow) too much snow can create blindness, confusion, George Pratt may have been blinded by the snow. The church: can symbolize religion, goodness, safety, the presence of God; The church bells: remind people of God, community as summoning for worshipers to pray, purity, sacredness, holy power,
Some examples of Imagery: The little town straggling up the hill was bright with colored Christmas lights; He was leaning over the railing of the iron bridge, staring down moodily at the black water.; The water looked paralyzingly cold.; He was stout, well past middle age, and his round cheeks were pink in the winter air as though they had just been shaved.; …Unless you saw his bright blue eyes,; He wore a moth-eaten old fur cap and a shabby overcoat that was stretched tightly across his paunchy belly; the bells ringing––the snow so heavy it blurred his vision; The current eddied and swirled like liquid glass,
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION