Themes in fiction for teens and adults 1: Houses and homes

Illustration by Giuseppe Palumbo from The Fall of the House of Usher (Tales of Mystery) written by Edgar Allan Poe. Level 5 Helbling Reader. © Helbling English

This is a new series which takes a theme-based approach to the teen and adult reading class. In our first post we’ll take a look at houses and homes in 15 classic novels. We have already approached this theme in the primary class through content-based instruction.

What do houses symbolise in your life?

Our colourful memories of the various houses we have lived in or visited can turn into something deeper, and we often attach moods to these places. Perhaps we remember a life-changing event or simply a nice day spent in a particular house, or we associate a certain period of our life with a certain place. An ornament, a smell, a dish, a flavour can take us back in time and bring back those past states of mind and feelings. Sometimes we think of houses as if they have a particular character with a personal history.

Talking about houses can be a simple but rich activity in your language classes. Instead of asking your students to describe their dream houses, ask them to talk about houses they have visited, lived in or spent a few days in during their holidays. They can describe the house and its surroundings, pointing out a memorable detail. Then they can talk about an event that happened there and describe how they felt in that house. Maybe it was an unusual place, an uncomfortable and strange house, but for some reason it is stuck in their memories.

What do fictional houses symbolise in literature?

In literary fiction and film houses can have a more symbolic function. Discussing personal memories of houses can shed a light on this function of the house. Think and talk about how these places can often signify a larger geographical area, a stage in someone’s life, a historical period or a certain status, value or feeling. We have collected fifteen novels which all host fantastic houses: some of them historical, some of them symbolic.

Go through this list with your students and see if they know any of them. After the list you will see some activity ideas for reading.

15 novels and their significant places

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Reading activities

1 The vocabulary of houses

Find images and definitions of these types of houses. Where can you see them? Has anyone in your classes visited any of these types of houses?

manor house, mansion, country estate, farmhouse, cottage, barn, castle, abbey, loft, villa, Victorian house, Edwardian house, Georgian house

2 Collect words to describe these houses

Collect some adjectives and nouns to describe these houses. When you look at the illustrations in the illustrated readers or search for these places on the Internet, note down feelings you associate with them. Also write down small details you observe. What types of stories would you imagine these houses?

3 Location card 

As your students are reading any of the titles above, ask them to complete a location card. They can find answers to the following questions.

  • Name of the house:
  • Location:
  • Owner:
  • Occupants:
  • Rooms:
  • Special features:
  • Surroundings:

Are there any houses that are important in contemporary literature or films? Ask your students to think of more examples in films and fiction they like.

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