Read the following excerpt from a newspaper article and keep an eye out for the theme “hope gives us the courage to overcome adversity.” The article is an example of the nonfiction genre and is about Michael Hancock, who overcame serious adversity to become the mayor of a big city.

Message of Survival Won Denver Race for Mayor

by Kirk Johnson
A photograph of Mayor Hancock, an African American man, in his 30s-40s, wearing a suit. He is standing outside of a government building.

Source: Mayor Hancock, Matthew Staver, New York Times Knowledge Network

DENVER — Lots of politicians, when stumped on the stump, resort to talking about their own lives and the results are often about as exciting as your average greeting card.

Michael B. Hancock never had that problem.

In running for mayor of Denver, a position he won overwhelmingly on Tuesday, Mr. Hancock told a family story so powerful, almost Dickensian in its poverty and hope — he and his twin sister were the youngest of 10 children raised by a single mother in Denver, part of that time in public housing — that the theme of adversity overcome became the heart of the campaign.

Mr. Hancock, when inaugurated next month, will become Denver’s second black mayor. The first was Wellington E. Webb, elected in 1991. Mr. Webb’s pioneering role — and perhaps the altered political landscape since President Obama’s election in 2008 — meant that race never came up as an issue in the campaign, Mr. Hancock said.

Mr. Hancock told voters about much harder parts of the world. His brother, Robert, died of AIDS in 1996. A sister, Karen, was killed in a murder-suicide in 2002.

The family hit bottom, Mr. Hancock said, when he was about six or seven, shortly after his parents’ divorce. They became homeless, living in a motel and, as he put it in the interview, “trying to figure out what was next.”

But always the Hancock story came down to how adversity was overcome. In one church appearance during the campaign, for example, he talked about the sixth grade teacher who changed his life. He had been misbehaving in class, and Mr. Hancock described the day she took him aside and said that instead of punishing him, she would make him a student leader.

Then he introduced the teacher herself — a member of that very church.

Mr. Hancock said that tough budget issues — Denver faces a nearly $100 million projected deficit in 2012 — would probably dominate his agenda.

But he said that optimism, inspired by his mother, who supported the family as a hospital medical technician, would be crucial.

“I think that played itself out during this campaign,” he said. “No matter how difficult and challenging it got, I continued to believe that everything was going to work out for the good. I think that’s directly related to my upbringing.”

Let’s analyze this excerpt beginning with the title. It tells us that we are going to read an article about a survivor. We already know what the overall theme is, so our task is to understand how the story supports the theme “hope gives us the courage to overcome adversity.”

First, the opening lines tell us that the subject, Michael B. Hancock, a politician, has an interesting life story. In the next few lines, we learn that he is the “youngest of 10 children raised by a single mother in Denver” and spent “part of that time in public housing.” The next line is what we need to help us figure out how the article relates to the theme. The author gives it to us explicitly: “the theme of adversity overcome became the heart of the campaign.” Overcoming adversity and Mr. Hancock’s determination to succeed against overwhelming odds are the main themes of the article, and it is this line that connects the text to the overall theme in this lesson.

Knowing the theme helps us to better grasp the role that hope and courage played in Mr. Hancock’s life, and we can better understand how he was able to reach such a prominent place in Denver government. The entire article is clearer and more meaningful because we know the theme, and it is supported by the text.

So far, in this section, you have made inferences and drawn conclusions about a theme in a nonfiction newspaper article. You have seen how the text supports the theme “hope gives us the courage to overcome adversity.” Now read a text from another genre, poetry. As you read the poem, find evidence that you can use to make inferences and draw conclusions to support the theme “hope gives us the courage to overcome adversity.”

An abstract rendering of blue, white, and orange feathers floating and blending

Source: Falling feathers, pargee, Flickr

“Hope” is the thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

—Emily Dickinson

take notes icon Consider each of the texts in this lesson: “Marigolds,” All Over but the Shoutin’, “Message of Survival Won Denver Race for Mayor,” and “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.” Use your notes to respond to the questions that follow. When you are finished, check your understanding to see possible responses.

  1. Each of these selections supports the theme “hope gives us the courage to overcome adversity.” Write down the evidence from each text that supports this theme.

  2. Check Your Understanding
    Sample Response:

    In the short story “Marigolds,” Miss Lottie grew a garden of beautiful flowers outside her “tumbledown shack.” Planting and maintaining this garden required courage and is an outward sign of Miss Lottie’s hope that she can overcome the adversity in her life by creating something beautiful.

    In the memoir All Over but the Shoutin’, the narrator tells of several instances where his mom did without to provide for her children and give them a sense of security. Hope is what gives the mother the courage to accept charity and to serve her children greater portions while she goes hungry. These are courageous acts given her pride and her position as head of the household. The mother’s hope that her children will overcome the adversity of poverty gives her the courage to make these choices

    In the article “Message of Survival Won Denver Race for Mayor,” Michael Hancock overcomes adversity to become mayor. He was the youngest of ten children in a single-parent household. Two of his siblings died tragically, and when he was very young his family became homeless. These events did not deter him. He was inspired by his mother’s determination and the guiding hand of a church member, who was also one of his teachers. This combination gave him the hope and courage that he needed to overcome adversity.

    In ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers, the line “I’ve heard it in the chillest lands” in the last set of stanzas offers the reader another reason to have hope. A bird’s song, a metaphor for hope, is heard even in the coldest, saddest lands. Hope is eternal and everywhere. The bird’s song of hope is even heard “on the strangest sea.” Hope exists for everyone.

  3. How does knowing the theme help you understand each text?

  4. Check Your Understanding
    Sample Response:

    Knowing the theme helps me empathize and connect with the characters in each text. Doing this helps me understand the author’s or subject’s feelings. Knowing the theme also makes me pay more attention to what is being said. I can better focus on lessons that might be learned from the experiences of the author or the subject of the writing.

    In “Marigolds,” knowing the theme helped me look out for evidence to help me make inferences. Understanding the theme was difficult in this story because the theme was more implied than explicit. Knowing the theme helped me see Miss Lottie’s flower garden for what it symbolized. If I did not know the theme, I might have overlooked this.

    In All Over but the Shoutin’, knowing the theme helped me see Mrs. Bragg’s sacrifices for what they were. This, too, was an example of the theme being implied rather than explicitly stated. Knowing the theme helped me pay attention to the mother’s actions and see them for what they truly meant rather than seeing them as random actions.

    In the excerpt from “Message of Survival Won Denver Race for Mayor,” the theme was more explicit, so knowing the overall theme helped me better analyze the article and look for supporting evidence.

    In “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” knowing the theme helped me understand that the bird’s song, a metaphor for hope, is a free gift. It exists for all of us. All we must do is not clip the wings of hope and let the bird fly and sing freely. Its song can be heard over the strangest seas, coldest lands, and in the worst storms. It is a song that never ends as long as we do not let it end.