The Scarlet Pimpernel: More Than Meets the Eye
By Brent Falke, ’99
Hillsdale Academy 7th-grade teacher
On the surface, The Scarlet Pimpernel is a simple book full of swashbuckling adventures, daring escapes, and an obvious “good guy vs. bad guy” plot. However, underlying the simplicity is thematic depth. Themes such as courage, deception, power, and pride permeate the book, with the most important being pride as Marguerite and Sir Percy have spiraled into distrust and contempt with neither willing to release his or her pride to fix their failing marriage. Though students in seventh grade cannot fully comprehend the partnership of marriage, they can at least gain an understanding of how destructive pride can be to their own interpersonal relationships.
The French Revolution serves as the backdrop of The Scarlet Pimpernel, and the action provides a vivid description of just how dangerous centralized power based on the whims of a majority (or minority) can be. In this day and age of young people’s ever-increasing acceptance of socialism, this book is an interesting case study to students of the logical consequences of “fairness,” as well as the manipulation of justice to fit an agenda.
The book’s flowery language can make it difficult for some students to fully grasp what is happening, especially in the first three chapters. It is important to have students explain in class what they have read the night before, and then correct any misconceptions they might have about the basic plot elements. Good Socratic questioning, however, brings Emmuska Orczy’s themes to the forefront and allows students to wrestle with important truths.
Click here for a downloadable (PDF format) poster of The Scarlet Pimpernel for use in your classroom.