HS English A

Thursday, August 18

It was good to meet all of you today. Some of you are new faces to me, so be patient as I learn your names and personalities. Be sure you explore the pages under the Housekeeping tab, particularly if you have no experience with MLA format or sharing Google Documents.

Today we kicked off the semester talking about Shirley Jackson and her 1962 novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. As you read the book, you’ll quickly see Shirley’s personal input on the plot, particularly her experience with agoraphobia and living in a small town. Remember, it was her 1948 short story “The Lottery” that put Shirley Jackson on the literary map. People quickly knew who she was, and it wasn’t necessarily a positive experience.

Since your first paper is going to be a Character Analysis, take notes on each of the four main characters as you read – Merricat (our narrator), Constance, Uncle Julian, and Cousin Charles, who shows up in Chapter 4. Perhaps by the end of Chapter 5 you’ll have an idea about who you want to explore in your paper.

Be sure you understand the difference between Theme and Subject. Remember, everything I write on the board is potential test material, and tests are always open notes. I noticed some of you didn’t take notes in class, so I hope you have a good memory. The rule of thumb is to write down everything I put on the board.


Read Ch. 1-5 in Castle. Take notes on the characters – anything that jumps out at you as potentially important. We will flesh out the characters together next week.

Then, copy/paste these response questions into a Google Document and answer them substantively. (Click here to get a better idea about what that means.) Share your Google Doc via email with me no later than Wednesday evening.

1. In the first paragraphs of the book, we learn a lot, particularly that Merricat and her sister Constance live together and the rest of the family is dead (minus Uncle Julian). The Blackwood family has always lived in that home and in that town, so their history is long and sordid. There are clues in the text which give hints to Merricat’s state of mind. What is your initial impression of her? What passages flesh out her character for you? 

2. “She took the groceries carefully from the bags; food of any kind was precious to Constance, and she always touched foodstuffs with quiet respect. I was not allowed to help; I was not allowed to prepare food, nor was I allowed to gather mushrooms, although sometimes I carried vegetables in from the garden, or apples from the old trees.” (Page 20 in my book) Why do you think Merricat wasn’t allowed to prepare food or be a meaningful part of kitchen work? 

3. When Mrs. Wright and Helen Clarke come for tea, Mrs. Wright talks to Uncle Julian about the day of the poisoning, and evidence against Constance is laid bare. (Pages 36-38 in my book) What do you think about Constance’s responses to the women and conversation as a whole? What does her role in the conversation say about her?

4. Food is a symbol of power in the book, particularly since it’s always been curated and prepared by the women in the family. One might argue the women have a “witchy” sense about them. Draw a few parallels between what goes on in the Blackwood’s kitchen and garden and what you know about folklore and witchcraft. (See the first few pages of Chapter 3 as a reference.) 

5. Cousin Charles is introduced in Chapter 4, a surprise arrival. Explain Merricat’s reaction to him and explore potential reasons why she and Constance reacted differently to him. 

6. There is a great deal of suspicion around the origins of the poisoning, but Uncle Julian believes he knows what really happened. Describe Uncle Julian as a character and explain why or why not you think he knows the truth. 


This course will focus on expanding students’ abilities in literary analysis and diversified writing primarily for 9th and 10th grades. We’ll read/discuss classic and contemporary novels and short stories, and students will be expected to write several essays in MLA format.        

Students should have taken at least one writing class beforehand and have a working knowledge of how to construct a basic five-paragraph essay without help. Students must have a Gmail account with Google Drive, as this is how most work will be submitted and graded.   


  • Assigned reading
  • Reading quizzes/response questions                 
  • Academic essays
  • End-of-Semester Tests

Tests are open notes, so your ability to pay attention, take notes, and keep organized is always rewarded. Bring a writing utensil and your notebook to class every week.

Fall Required Reading: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson; Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; The Great Divorce by CS Lewis; MLA Handbook 8th Ed. or access to the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)

Spring Required Reading: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (No Fear Shakespeare); I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai; short stories will be provided

Note: Please do not purchase these works too far in advance. I always like to poll the class to see how many students have read these works previously. If enough have read one of my selections, I’ll swap it out. I’ll ask everyone about the books lists at the beginning of the fall semester.