|The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
Theme: Breaking out of Traditional Gender Roles
Grades: Grades 7-8
In this fast-paced and suspense-filled novel, 13-year-old Charlotte
Doyle describes a remarkable sea voyage that changes her life forever.
In 1832, Charlotte crosses the Atlantic aboard the Seahawk, departing
from England to join her family in Rhode Island. Raised to be a proper
young lady, she is surprised to learn that she is the only passenger
and only female aboard the ship. Frightened by a mysterious crew, at
first she trusts only Jaggery, the captain, but soon discovers that
he is cruel and slightly mad. She then joins ranks with the mutinous
crew but must convince them of her loyalty by tackling death-defying
feats unfamiliar to most females of her era. Charlotte is befriended
along the way by the old black cook, Zachariah, who eventually helps
save her life. When the vengeful captain accuses her of murder, Charlotte
is tried and found guilty. She escapes punishment in a life-and-death
struggle with Jaggery and is finally reunited with her family. Charlotte
misses the Seahawk, however, and, in an unusual twist of the
plot, casts aside the comforts of home for the life of a seafarer.
- Linking to Today: Gender Roles.
Challenge students with the following questions: Are there jobs that
women can't do? Are there jobs that men can't do? Draw two columns
on the chalkboard with the headings JUST FOR MEN and JUST FOR WOMEN,
and ask students what, if any, jobs they would list in each column.
Then let the sparks fly! Urge students to debate the rationale for
listing jobs under either heading and to give concrete examples that
either support or dispute the gender limitations of any job listed.
Help point out some of the prejudices or expectations regarding jobs
that, in the past, have been associated with only one genderfor example,
construction worker, nurse, firefighter, secretary. At the end of
the activity, tell students that, in The True Confessions of Charlotte
Doyle, they will read about a 19th-century girl who takes on a
job typically assigned only to men.
- Tapping Prior Knowledge: Sailing Across the Atlantic.
Explain to students that they will be reading about a trans-Atlantic
voyage from England to Rhode Island that occurred in 1832. Then have
them work together as a class or in small groups to discuss what they
know about trans-Atlantic crossings in the 19th century. Urge students
to brainstorm ideas about the types of sailing vessels available in
the 19th-century and the living conditions that a seafarer might have
encountered. Encourage them to share facts or stories about ocean
voyages that they remember from history books, stories, or films.
Record their facts and impressions on the chalkboard to be used later
as a reference when discussing the novel.
Suggest that students create a contemporary two-part collage that
reflects Charlotte's character before and after she joins the crew
of the Seahawk. Invite them to use pictures from current
magazines or to draw pictures that illustrate their impressions
of Charlotte's changing attitudes, emotions, and values.
- A Bit of Advice.
Have students work in small groups to prepare a skit in which one
student plays the role of a guidance counselor attempting to resolve
the conflicts between Charlotte and her family. Suggest that students
in each group begin by deciding what kind of advice the counselor
should give and how Charlotte and her family would respond to it.
Allow time for volunteers to present their skits to the whole class.
- Nothing Women Could Not Do.
In this project, students will learn about modern-day women and women
in history who, like Charlotte Doyle, have broken gender barriers.
Working in pairs, students will research one pioneering woman and
then present their findings to the class in a variety of multi-media
- Give students a list (such as Amelia Earhart, Sylvia Earle,
Delores Huerta, and Sandra Day O'Connor) of women who have broken
into traditionally male careers. Then ask students, working in
pairs, to select one woman from the list or one of their own choosing
to research for a special class presentation.
- Give students ample time to use the library, textbooks, and
the Internet to search for information about their pioneering
woman, and suggest that they try to find answers to questions
such as: What were her early years like? How did she get started
in her career? What motivated her? How did she overcome any prejudice
or hardships? How has she influenced others?
- Next, have students prepare a creative profile of their pioneering
woman that they can share with the class and, if possible, with
others in the school. Encourage them to choose a method or format
that will be more interesting and appealing than a straight oral
report. For example, they might plan and perform a dramatic profile,
create and videotape a talk-show interview, make a narrated slide
show, create a bulletin board for the school lobby, or make an
illustrated book for the school library.
- How-To Pamphlet.
Instruct students to research the life and manners of upper-class
American girls and women in the first half of the 19th century, especially
the way young girls were expected to behave. Then ask them to write
the type of "edifying," or instructional, pamphlet that Charlotte's
parents would want their daughter to read.