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Additional Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Teaching the Hero's Journey
      Using Casablanca

Other Sections:
      Links to the Internet
      Building Vocabulary
      Selected Awards & Cast

Go to the Learning Guide for this film.

Additional Helpful Background:

Extended metaphor: A metaphor is a type of figurative language in which one thing is said to be something else which, literally, it cannot be. A famous metaphor is John Dunne's "my love is a red, red rose." Metaphor is used to point out new and intriguing aspects of the original thing that are not normally noticed or considered important. Metaphor is used to enrich description. In his Poetics, Aristotle claims that mastering the use of metaphor is ". . . . a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars."

An extended metaphor is one in which the equivalence is not stated as a figure of speech. Instead, it is spelled out slowly, sometimes through the body of the work. Extended metaphors often involve the use of symbol.

Extended Metaphor or Allegory?

Casablanca is a classic story of love and of redemption through sacrifice. Rick's change from being cynical and self-serving to a man committed to the cause of anti-fascism for which he gives up the woman he loves, is an extended metaphor for the movement of the U.S. from isolationism to engagement on the world stage. While Rick sacrificed the woman he loved, the U.S. offered up the lives of its young men who died in the war. The character of the United States in general can be seen in Rick. An examination of the use of Rick's character as a symbol for attitudes in the U.S. and the changes that he goes through as an extended metaphor will make students fully aware of the power of symbol and metaphor in literature as well as in film.

The evidence that Rick's thinking about engagement in the affairs of the world stands for the attitude of the U.S. as a whole comes from Rick's actions, his own comments, what others say about him, and important details. For example, at the beginning of the film Signor Ferrari, proprietor of a competing bar called "The Blue Parrot" says, "My dear Rick, when will you realize that in this world today isolationism is no longer a practical policy?" Rick comments at one point that, "I stick my neck out for nobody," to which Captain Renault, at that time a tool of the fascists, responds: "Wise foreign policy." By having these characters make a clear connection between Rick's attitude and the official position of the U.S. regarding the troubles in Europe, the screenwriter is giving a signal that, in the metaphorical and symbolic system of the story, Rick's attitude on isolation vs. engagement will stand for the attitudes of the American people.

This equivalence is confirmed by other details and dialog. The nightclub that Rick runs is called "Rick's Café Americain." Major Strasser refers to Rick as "just another blundering American" to which Renault responds that he was present when the American military blundered into Berlin in WWI. The movie is set in December of 1941, the same month as the attack on Pearl Harbor which finally sounded the death knell for isolationism in America. It is in December 1941 that Rick is awakened to the need to fight fascism. Before the awakening, as Rick notes, "I bet they're asleep in New York. I'll bet they're asleep all over America. . . ." When Rick has secured passage for Laszlo and Ilsa on the plane to Lisbon, Laszlo praises Rick by saying, "This time I know our side will win." This statement makes sense only in referring to the commitment of a nation backed up by a powerful military.

Some critics refer to the other characters as symbols and to Casablanca as an allegory. See e.g. Casablanca as Allegory. This is a plausible theory. The other characters represent classes of people affected differently by the fascist totalitarian regime. Renault, at the beginning of the film, collaborates with the totalitarian regime although he knows that it is evil. Major Strasser and the Germans are the face and agents of totalitarianism. Laszlo is a valiant man fighting totalitarianism. Ilsa represents all that is beautiful and good in life. She is under threat so long as she remains in Casablanca and tied forever to Laszlo, no matter how much she loves Rick. Signor Ferrari is a criminal similar to many who take advantage of societies in turmoil. He makes money through prostitution, drug dealing, and assassination. Rick, at the beginning of the story, is a businessman who tries to make money without directly profiting from the regime but also without challenging it. He does a little good here and there on a person-to-person level, but that is the extent of his intervention. This is an untenable position because, as the movie shows, a totalitarian regime will eventually require people trying to stay neutral to become collaborators and they will have no choice but to either go along or resist.

The argument against treating the movie as an allegory is that Casablanca is more than just the manipulation of a complex system of symbols as in, for example, George Orwell's Animal Farm. The allegory underlies the story but is overwhelmed by the emotional impact of the love story and of the extended metaphor of Rick's changing attitudes toward engagement with the world. Most allegories do not have the emotional impact of this story.

The short answer to the question of whether Casablanca is an extended metaphor or an allegory is that it is both.

The film is based on the play "Everybody Comes to Rick's" written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.

Some critics felt that the film served as propaganda to drum up support for the war by making its audience understand that engagement is the only reaction totalitarianism. That may be true, but all art about a political crisis is, in some sense, propaganda.


Additional Discussion Questions:

Continued from the Learning Guide...

General Discussion Questions to be Used After Watching the Movie

5. On two occasions early in the film, characters say they are in Casablanca where they wait and wait and wait. The repetition of "waiting" becomes a motif and points the viewers in the direction of an idea. What is everyone waiting for? In terms of the metaphor relating to American isolationism, what is the waiting all about? Suggested Response: Refugees are waiting to escape the dangers of fascism; the world is waiting for America to enter the war and help draw the conflict to a close saving the world from the dangers of fascism.

6. Symbols can be seen throughout Casablanca. What symbolic statement is made when Captain Renault drops the bottle of Vichy water into the trash at the film's end? Suggested Response: The French government under German occupation was located in Vichy, a French resort city famous for its mineral water. The water bottle dropped into the trash represents rejection of the puppet government and his role as a collaborator.

7. Ugarte wants Rick to hide the stolen letters of transit in Rick's saloon. After Ugarte is arrested and Rick has done nothing to interfere with the authorities, Rick says; "I stick my neck out for nobody." Why won't Rick help Ugarte? Suggested Response: There are two reasons. First, there was nothing Rick could have done. The café was surrounded and Ugarte had no chance of escape, even if Rick helped him. Second, Rick repeats several times during the early part of the film that he is not interested in the problems of the world, that he is not interested in politics, and that he just wants to run his saloon.

8. Although Rick seems to have disdain for others, he shows genuine concern for some individuals and tries to help them. What evidence can you find to support this characteristic? Suggested Response: Rick allows the husband of a young woman from Bulgaria who had come to him for help in finding a way to America, to win the necessary money at the roulette wheel, a costly gesture for Rick. When his café is closed down, he continues to pay his employees and when he sells the place, part of the deal is that the new owner take care of Rick's workers.

9. What evidence can you offer to illustrate Rick's cynicism early in the movie? Suggested Response: Answers will vary: Rick says to Ugarte that the two dead couriers who had been carrying the letters of transit were just clerks until they were murdered, then they became the honored dead. Later, when Ilsa threatens to shoot him he says, "Go ahead. You'd be doing me a favor." He shows cynicism when Major Strasser asks him his nationality and he says he is a drunkard. Although the line is humorous, it is bitter and contemptuous. Another cynical comment is when Rick says, "I'm not fighting for anything any more, except myself. I'm the only cause I'm interested it."

10. The scene in which the Germans begin singing the German National Anthem until Laszlo leads the orchestra in the French National Anthem, "La Marseillaise," is a rousing bit of patriotic sentimentality. What sentiment makes this scene so powerful? Suggested Response: Answers will vary: "La Marseillaise" is not only the French National anthem; it was the anthem of the French Revolution and refers generally to the desire of mankind for freedom and democracy. The scene shows, as Laszlo later says, that authoritarian violence and oppression cannot silence everyone; that there is hope for the triumph of freedom.

11. What can you offer as reasons that Rick changes his mind and makes sure that Laszlo and Ilsa escape together? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. It could be that as soon as Rick realizes that Ilsa truly loves him, he is able to drop his bitterness and return to the reasonable individual he had been before. His redemption requires that he do the right thing, which he is able to do once his pain and its subsequent self-absorption are gone.

12. Why must Rick put both Laszlo and Ilsa on the plane to Lisbon, staying behind to risk his life fighting for the Underground? Suggested Response: Rick cannot be the man that justifies Ilsa's love without being engaged in the fight against fascism and since Laszlo is important to the fight and Ilsa's place is with Laszlo, that means that Rick must give her up. Thus, it must be Ilsa and Laszlo who get on the plane to Lisbon.

Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions


1.  If you were Rick, could you have sent the woman you loved to Lisbon?

2.  If you were Ilsa, would you have left Rick in Paris with no explanation and left him again in Casablanca?


3.  Rick had sunk pretty low. He had abandoned his principles and was just looking out for himself. Yet he did a wonderful and courageous thing. What does this say about the power of redemption?

4.  Can a person ever sink so low that he cannot redeem himself?

Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)
(TeachWithMovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner"
and  uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.)

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.


(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

1.  By the end of the movie, Rick does what he should have been doing all along, helping in the fight against the Nazis. What brought him to do this?


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

2.  Which of Rick's actions of Rick's demonstrated the ethical principle of caring for others?

(See questions in the Romantic Relationships section above.)


(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)

3.  Does the ethical value of citizenship stop at the border of one's own country?

Additional Assignments

Continued from the Learning Guide...

Pick or allow the students to choose one of the following prompts. Allow them to use the script for the movie if they so desire.
5.   Write a formal essay in which you evaluate the basis for the claim that Casablanca serves as an extended metaphor for the abandonment of the isolationist attitude that kept America from entering the World War. In your essay, refer to characters, events and dialogue that show Rick's moral growth from self-interest to self-sacrifice and compare this shift to the one made by the American public in terms of willingness to go to war.

6.   Discuss the following characters in terms of two factors: from what do they need redemption and how is that redemption achieved. Be sure to cite evidence from the film, in action or dialogue, that will add support to your thoughts. Write separate paragraphs for each.

    • Ilsa;

    • Yvonne;

    • Rick; and

    • Renault

7.   Research the nationalities of extras, actors and actresses playing ancillary or minor roles in Casablanca, many of whom had immigrated recently to the U.S. and some of whom had suffered loss of family in the European conflict. Take notes on your findings in terms of the social significance they lend to the film. Present the details to the class and share your commentary. Be prepared to defend your point of view.

8.   Write a persuasive essay on the role of Casablanca as propaganda aimed at cementing public support for entry into World War II. You may determine that the movie is a romance with no intention of pushing a social point of view or that the story is fully involved in the effort to end isolationism. Use reference to scenes, dialogue and action to back up your point.

9.   Write a character analysis of Rick. Use scenes, dialogue and action to create a clear picture of the kind of person Rick is portrayed to be. Judge his character, his motives and his status as a hero.

10.   Read the screenplay or watch the film again at home and collect quotes of some of the humorous lines in the film to see if there is a social comment being made. Discuss its implications for the themes of the story.

11.   Research the nation of Morocco, including its history as a colony of France. Look especially into the population of Jews in Morocco and how they fared during World War II. Present your findings in a formal research paper.

12.   Compare and contrast the characters of Rick and Laszlo, Ilsa and Yvonne, Rick and Signor Ferrari, Renault and Strasser. Write a paragraph for each pair describing what point is being served by creating these contrasting characters.
See additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

Using Casablanca to Teach the Hero's Journey

This film is a simple story of redemption through sacrifice. Rick has lost his way, consumed by bitterness and longing. When he finds that he can have what he has so long desired, he gives it all up for a cause and, in so doing, finds his way again. However, when the story is analyzed from the standpoint of the Hero's Journey, first identified by Joseph Campbell, it clearly contains most of the twelve stages identified in film by Christopher Vogler in his book, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition. Note however, as is often the case, the stages do not appear in their classic order. Casablanca is not the strongest example of the Monomyth, but the fact that the stages of the Hero's Journey can be found in such a simple story of love and redemption, speaks to the power of the concept. (Click here for a student handout describing the stages of the journey most often used film.) TWM has also provided a worksheet which can be used by students to track the stages of the journey. See TWM's Hero's Journey Film Study Worksheet.

Set out below are the suggested strong responses to the prompts on the Hero's Journey Film Study Worksheet. The suggested responses are matters of interpretation and reasonable minds may differ. Student responses are not right or wrong, they are weak or strong.

I.   Write a short single-paragraph description of the Hero's Journey described in Casablanca. Suggested Response: Rick progresses from a self-centered cynic ("I stick my neck out for nobody" and "The problems of the world are not in my department"), to a caring individual who is able to sacrifice a life with the woman he loves for the benefit of others and who joins the fight of good men against fascism.

II.   For each stage of the Hero's Journey describe the action of the film, if any, which manifests the stage. Specify the attributes of the stage to which these actions relate. Remember, some characters can have more than one function in the story and one or more of the stages can be skipped or combined.

    SECTION ONE — Introduction to Setting, Characters & Conflict

    1. The Ordinary World: Suggested Response: Rick's café in Morocco is Rick's ordinary world, a world in which Rick is disengaged and cynical. He lives without love or allegiance to a cause at a time when people had to a take stand against fascist tyranny. It could also be argued that the flashback scene showing Rick in Paris prior to the German occupation constitutes his ordinary world. Rick's time in Paris shows a happy man not yet in the pit of disillusion. Either of the options work and both the happiness and the disillusion are important characteristics of Rick.

    2. Call to Adventure: Suggested Response: The call to adventure can be found when Laszlo asks Rick for the letters of transit. It could also be said that the call to adventure occurred when Ilsa walks into Rick's café. Prior to this moment, Rick lived with a good degree of harmony in the turmoil around him.

    3. Refusal of the Call: Suggested Response: Rick refuses the call when he tells Laszlo that the letters of transit are not for sale. Another refusal occurs at the beginning of the late night interview with Ilsa.

    4. Meeting with the Mentor: Suggested Response: Laszlo is Rick's mentor. Laszlo is a true leader, inspiring people to go beyond what they had ever thought possible in doing what is right. Laszlo is the only person in the movie that Rick admires. It could be said that Laszlo mentors Rick just by existing in close proximity. Laszlo's active mentoring of Rick occurs just after Rick undertakes the quest by telling Ilsa that he will think for them both. Although Rick has already crossed the first threshold when Rick tells his orchestra to play "La Marseillaise" neither Rick nor the audience know if he is going to follow through on this small movement toward anti-fascism. The active mentoring occurs in the scene when Laszlo and Carl have just come into the bar, running from the police who have broken up the Underground meeting. As Rick tends to the small cut on Laszlo's hand, Rick makes a particularly cynical remark and Laszlo responds, "You know how you sound, Monsieur Blaine? Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart. Each of us has a destiny, for good or for evil. . . . I wonder if you know that you're trying to escape from yourself and that you'll never succeed." Laszlo has Rick figured out.

    5. Crossing the First Threshold: Suggested Response: When Rick gives the o.k. to the orchestra to play "La Marseillaise" he was crossing the first threshold. At that time "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem, was a song that for the last 150 years had been associated with resistance to tyranny. Thus, it had a meaning for Laszlo, a Czech, and for all of the refugees in Rick's saloon of whatever nationality. The song is recognized by the Germans and everyone present as an act of resistance and leads the Germans to demand that Renault to close the café.

    SECTION TWO — Action, Climax, Triumph

    6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: Suggested Response: Rick's quest begins before he really knows that he is on the quest. It could be argued that it started when he began doing things like helping the young Bulgarian couple get the money to escape, but he had done similar things in the past. It could also be argued that it started when he tolerated his employees being in the Underground. According to this argument, his allies are his employees. However, a strong argument is that these types of events had occurred before the call to adventure and that they were part of Rick's Ordinary World. This argument continues that the quest didn't really begin until Ilsa and Laszlo came to his club. Rick's enemies are General Strasser and for a time, the Prefect of Police Captain Renault. The conscious quest that begins when Rick agrees to start thinking for both himself and Ilsa doesn't involve any allies, he pulls it off pretty much by himself without the assistance of anyone, except perhaps Renault at the very end. There are several tests, as when he pulls the gun on Renault, kills Strasser and lies to Laszlo about what happened the night before with him and Ilsa. At the airport Renault becomes an ally. Laszlo and Ilsa become allies.

    7. Approach to the Inmost Cave: Suggested Response: An argument could be made that this stage occurs when Ilsa comes to Rick's room and asks him for the letters of transit. When he refuses she threatens him with a gun. He says to her: "Go ahead and shoot. You'll be doing me a favor." But that's not really Rick's approach to the inmost cave because he has not yet fully accepted the quest and the possibility of death from the quest. This stage occurs off-camera, when Rick decides on his plan to force Renault to allow Ilsa and Laszlo to get on the Lisbon plane. This plan had many risks and could easily have resulted in Rick, Ilsa and Laszlo being killed or put into a concentration camp. A good argument could be made that this stage is missing from Rick's quest.

    8. Ordeal: Suggested Response: This stage involves Rick's having to think for Ilsa and creating and executing the plan to get Ilsa and Laszlo out of Casablanca.

    9. Reward: Suggested Response: Rick's reward occurs when the plane to Lisbon takes off with Laszlo and Ilsa on it. Another valid response is that Rick receives his reward when Laszlo, his mentor, says, "Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win." Yet a third valid response is that Rick's reward is something that he gives to himself, the self-respect that he now has that he has done the right thing and the love that he can allow himself to feel for Ilsa, knowing that she loves him, too. A final possible reward is Ilsa's love, which he will always have, from afar, and which he would eventually have lost if he had not helped Laszlo escape with his wife, i.e., with Ilsa.

    SECTION THREE — Resolution and Denouement

    10. The Road Back: Suggested Response: This stage occurs at the very end when Rick and Renault are setting off to find the Underground.

    11. Resurrection: Suggested Response: Rick's resurrection occurs throughout the last quarter of the film, as he begins to think for both himself and Ilsa, determines that their love is ill-fated, and that he will help Laszlo take Ilsa to Lisbon and then to the U.S.

    12. Return with the Elixir: Suggested Response: The elixir in this film is Rick's realization that there is something outside of himself worth fighting for. Earlier he had said he was not good at being noble, but he is now behaving as would a noble individual. The return is the audience's realization of this fact.

III.   Identify the archetypes of the Hero's Journey that appear in the movie and, for each, describe the function it performs in telling the film's story. The following are the archetypes associated with the story of a quest.

    1. The Hero: Suggested Response: Rick is the hero and the protagonist of the story.

    2. The Mentor: Suggested Response: Laszlo is the mentor. See description of Laszlo's role in stage 4.

    3. Threshold Guardians: Suggested Response: Renault in his incarnation early in the movie is a threshold guardian. Later, he changes to become an ally.

    4. The Herald: Suggested Response: Laszlo is the Herald, as well as the Mentor.

    5. Shapeshifter: Suggested Response: Rick is the main shapeshifter in this story. Ilsa, too, is a shapeshifter, being Rick's passionate lover in Paris one minute and gone the next, then appearing as the devoted wife of Laszlo and finally being willing to throw it all over and go with Rick.

    6. The Shadow: Suggested Response: It is the other side of Rick, the bitter disillusioned side that is the Shadow. As the movie begins we see Rick in the shadow and as the movie progresses, he moves out of it.

    7. The Trickster: Suggested Response: There is no trickster in this story.

IV.   Describe any other archetypes that appear in the story and the functions they perform:

    There are no other archetypes in this story.

After the film has been viewed give students time to share ideas with others and to fill in their worksheets. Give and take of ideas among students can be illuminating in this effort to determine whether or not Rick constitutes a true hero.

Assignment: Deliver the following prompt:
In a formal essay, illustrate, using as many of the stages of the Hero's Journey as you see appropriate to support your point, how Rick, in Casablanca becomes a heroic character. Be sure to show his transformation from cynic to believer. Be sure to site support by referring directly to specific scenes, dialogue or action taken.

Evaluate the essay using the rubrics to which your students have grown accustomed.

Links to the Internet:

BUILDING VOCABULARY: This list is from the dialog of the screenplay: embarkation, tortuous, Mediterranean, visa, refugee, gravitate, Prefect, despise, parasite, commodity, isolationism, extravagant, abscond, sentimentalist, fundamental, "blares out," linger, tentative, impassive, crusader, bazaar, stall, monopoly, "carrying charges," hypocrite, ransack, influential, Vichy, flatter, Boche, compliment, "rank sentimentalist," "La Marseillaise," Mademoiselle, concentration camp, gaze, garrison.

The following words are in the stage directions of the screenplay: turret, Polyglot, Pandemonium, hectic, refugee, "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite," disconcerted, Prefect, chic, sophistication, intrigue, "Babel of foreign tongues," Jovial, burly, tout, cynical, gendarme, illuminate, grim, rubble, demolished, cluster, "trifle disconcerted" chic, sophistication, intrigue, "Babel of foreign tongues," jovial, burly, tout (used to describe Ugarte); cynical, despise, parasite, commodity, isolationism, extravagant, abscond, sentimentalist, gendarme, fundamental, illuminate, grim, rubble, demolished, cluster, hectic, fevered, as in "hectic, fevered excitement," nonchalantly, exclamations, demoralized, ironically, and croupier.

Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

Selected Awards: 1943 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Curtiz), Best Screenplay; 1945 National Board of Review Awards: Ten Best Films of the Year; 1943 Academy Award Nominations: Best Actor (Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Rains), Best Black & White Cinematography; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score. This film is ranked #2 on the American Film Institute's List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006). This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" film.

Featured Actors: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. Sakall, Dooley Wilson, Marcel Dalio, John Qualen, Helmut Dantine.

Director: Michael Curtiz.

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