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    This Guide is in preparation but it is complete enough to be useful to teachers.
    SUBJECTS — Health, Literature;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Breaking Out; Disabilities; Parenting;
            Families in Crisis;
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility;
    Age: 13; MPAA Rating -- Rated PG-13 for elements of mature subject matter; Drama; 1993; 118 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

    Description:     Gilbert is stuck in Endora caring for his obese mother, his mentally handicapped soon-to-be-18-years-old brother, and his two sisters. He works in the local grocery store which is beginning to lose customers as townspeople drive to a large new supermarket store out on the highway. Gilbert longs for a life of his own. One day a camper with engine trouble exits the line of tourists passing through Endora. Enter Becky, a young woman with a fresh attitude toward life who is on the road with her grandmother.

    The film is based on the novel by Peter Hedges, who also wrote the screenplay. As such, the film is more than just an adaptation, but is an independent work of fiction on its own.

    Rationale for Using the Movie: Students often struggle with the conflict between responsibility to family and responsibility to self, a subject admirably addressed in this film. The story is multi-layered and uses many elements of fiction including symbol, motif, and expository phase.

    Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Through discussion and writing assignments, students will sharpen their knowledge of several literary devices as they exercise important ELA skills and gain awareness of how the themes of the story may apply to them personally.

    Possible Problems:    Gilbert engages in a relationship with a lonely married woman in town.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Using the Movie in Class:
      After Showing the Film
      Discussion Questions


Additional Discussion Questions:
      General Discussion
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)
Additional Assignments
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
CCSS Anchor Standards
Selected Awards & Cast

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Movies as Literature Homework Project.

    Discussion Questions:

    1. What is eating Gilbert Grape? Answer for the time, up until his mother dies. Suggested Response: There are many ways to express the answer each of which can be turned into a discussion of a theme from the film. Strong responses include the following. Students will undoubtedly come up with more.

    • Gilbert's mother has abdicated her role as caregiver and placed the responsibility for Arnie and many parental roles on Gilbert.

    • The limitations of small town life.

    • The fact that to be self-fulfilled, Gilbert needs to leave home and start living his own life.

    • The fact that Gilbert, in Arnie's words, is "shrinking".

    • The fact that "we aren't going any where".

    • Many people are using Gilbert for their own purposes: his mother is using him so that she can abdicate her responsibilities as a parent; Mrs. Carver uses him for sex and for relief from her monotonous lonely life; Mr. Carver wants to sell him life-insurance; even Gilbert's boss asks for reassurance that customers will come back to the grocery store.

    2. There is a theme in this film that has very little to do with Gilbert, what is it? Suggested Response: This theme relates to the changes to Gilbert's community. The Food Land store is putting the small grocery in which Gilbert works out of business by offering products that the small grocery cannot offer, such as live lobsters in a tank or cakes made to order. But something is lost in this new way of doing business such as deliveries and personal relationships. Also, fast food is coming to Endora under the name Burger Barn. It will put a dent in the business of the diner where Gilbert goes to meet his friends. The coming of new businesses to the town point out the inevitability of change, that change may not be completely for the better, and that it is best to make adjustments.

    3. Several motifs tie the story together and point in the direction of theme. Name one of these motifs and explain its value in the story. Suggested Response: There are several important motifs in the film. These include: (1) The coming of new businesses to the town, Food Land and Burger Barn. (2) The repeated line "We're not going anywhere" expresses Gilbert's problem which is reiterated. (3) The water tower and Arnie's attraction to it point out the constant dangers from which Arnie needs protection;

    4. Describe Gilbert's feelings toward Arnie. Suggested Response: Answers will differ but a good response will recognize that Gilbert had conflicting feelings. He loved Arnie and knew that he had the responsibility, by default, to take care of his brother. However, there were times when Gilbert resented Arnie and didn't take care of the boy, such as when Gilbert left Arnie in the bath and when he hit Arnie. Teachers should stress that these are natural feelings which many people feel when they are required to take care of loved ones who are ill or disabled.

    For 15 additional Discussion Questions concerning theme, symbol, expository phase and other elements of fiction see the Supplemental Materials for this Guide.

    Assignments and Assessments:

    Most of the discussion questions in this Guide and in the Supplemental Materials can serve as writing prompts. Additional assignments include:

    1. Write an analytical essay in which you illustrate how Betty's death and the burning down of the house are not the solution to the problem; they are important events but not real solutions. In your essay indicate how the events clarify the solution on a symbolic level.

    2. Write a character study of Becky describing at least three scenes in which she says or does something that shows her to be an exemplary character. Remember that Becky is insightful in her relationship with Arnie, kind in her words about Betty and open-hearted in interaction with Bonnie.

    3. Write six letters from Gilbert to his sisters or his friends in Endora that reveal where he and Arnie have gone, who they are with and what they have been doing. Keep the tone of the letters true to Gilbert's character and spread the dates of the letters over time. You are writing an epistolary, a story told in letters, to continue the events in the film and to create a new ending.
    Tell students to try to use in the letters at least one metaphor or simile and one ironic situation or reference. Also tell them to show rather than tell by describing action (including dialogue), revealing thoughts (including internal monologues), describing observations by the characters, using descriptive language (including images of people, places and things), and comparing one thing to another. Consider giving students, as preparation for this assignment, TWM's Exercise in "Showing Rather than Telling" When Writing a Narrative. Also check out the Narrative Writing Lesson Plan.
    4. Write informally about any conflicts that stem from what your family members may expect or want from you and what you may want or expect for yourself. Consider school work, friendships, behaviors, etc. Suggest any solutions that may be possible to resolve the conflicts. For additional Assignments, see the Supplemental Materials for this Guide.


Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!

his Learning Guide contains ideas for using the movie in class. Many of these ideas relate to the book as well as the film. For suggestions about using filmed adaptations of literary works in the ELA classroom, see Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories and Plays.

Parenting Points    

Watch the movie with your child and ask discussion question #4.

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