HS English A

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January 14

Thank you for enduring a passionate lecture about the seriously messed up Tudor family. Henry VIII is one of my favorite monarchs to study, so it gave me a lot of joy to have a reason to talk about him. You won’t be required to remember the exact dates of his reign, but you do need to understand how we got to the Golden Age of England and why the country was ripe for a renaissance and perfectly situated to receive William Shakespeare’s work.

Remember, Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be SEEN and HEARD, so sitting down to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream might not be the most thrilling experience. Below is the full play, which you are welcome to watch. You are also welcome to find another version that better suits your taste.

Also, here are a few photos I took when I was in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2019. The first photo is William Shakespeare’s birthplace. The other two are of a monument in Bancroft Gardens along the River Avon, right behind the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.


Read Acts I and II in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (don’t skip the character summaries!). Then, create a new Google Document and answer the following questions substantively.

1. In Act I, Scene 1, Lysander says to Hermia, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Explain how this now-popular quote works as both foreshadowing and a proverb.

2. Act I, Scene II involves a group of goofy characters preparing to put on a play for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta in Athens. Two important characters in this scene are Nick Bottom and Peter Quince. Compare and contrast them.

3. At the beginning of Act II, we are introduced to the king and queen of the fairies. They are not a happy couple! In fact, Oberon and Titania accuse one another of adultery, among other things. Summarize, in your own words, the impact of their discord, as described by Titania in lines 81-117.

4. Why do you think Helena is infatuated with Demetrius, even after he rejected her many times?

5. One of the play’s more famous lines are from Oberon’s instructions to Puck:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania some time of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.

What begins with beautiful imagery of a forest ends with Oberon describing his drugged fairy wife wrapped in a shed snakeskin. Explain the juxtaposition of enchantment and entrapment as it pertains to Oberon’s intentions.

6. At the end of Scene II, Hermia wakes up suddenly from a nightmare where a snake was eating/stealing her heart. (Another snake reference!) What literary device is being used here? (There’s more than one.)

Finally, start brainstorming what you want to do with your Book Page. Whatever you create, it needs to fit on an 8.5×11 piece of paper and is due by email on Wednesday, February 3, or in person on February 4.

To the students who agreed to be actors, thank you! I’ll email you soon 🙂

December 10

Today we went over the first eight chapters of The Great Divorce. I hope you are taking notes on these ghosts.

If you were absent and need to listen to the lecture, click here. This was recorded for the Online English class, so the deadlines I give them aren’t meant for you. The content is the same though.

Here’s the sign from Scotland that I mentioned in class:


Finish The Great Divorce and answer the following response questions in your Google Doc. (I will record a lecture covering the second half of the book for the Online English class and post it on Monday. You are welcome to listen to it prior to Thursday if you think you need the extra help preparing for the test.)

  1. George MacDonald was a famous Scottish writer whom C.S. Lewis admired. Why do you think Lewis chose to include a real person into a work of fiction and use him as the Narrator’s guide? (Ch. 9)
  2. Ch. 9 is full of instruction, as the Narrator and George tease out questions and answers. What are your main takeaways from this heavy chapter? 
  3. What’s your understanding of what happened to the female ghost in Ch. 10?
  4. Ch. 11 is a heartbreaking picture of a grieving mother named Pam. All she wants is to be reunited with her deceased son, Michael. What are your thoughts on the exchange between Pam and Reginald? What do you think Lewis is trying to say here? 
  5. It is also in Ch. 11 when we see the man with the lizard on his shoulder. This is one of the more powerful passages in the book because it so clearly captures the human tendency to hang on to things that aren’t good for us. What are your thoughts on this scene?
  6. The chessboard is the ultimate symbol of the entire book. Do your best to describe what Lewis is trying to teach us. (Ch. 14)
  7. What are your final thoughts about The Great Divorce

Finally, if you have a Frankenstein paper ready for me to grade, SEND ME AN EMAIL and tell me. Some of you have already done this, so this message isn’t for you. 🙂 I will accept no work after Wednesday night!

December 3

Good morning! I hope you all are healthy and well.

Instead of re-recording the same lecture I’ve already recorded for my Online English class, I’m using the same one because it’s the same information (minus due dates). Don’t let the due date confuse you. Your weekly homework is always due by Wednesday evenings.

This week we start The Great Divorce, so be sure you have a copy of the book handy. As always, I want you to know about the authors of whatever we’re reading, so today I talk about CS Lewis. You are likely familiar with the name, but perhaps your knowledge of CS Lewis doesn’t extend past The Chronicles of Narnia or some of his more popular works.

We’ll get through the book quickly – reading half this week and the rest next week. FYI – the bulk of your final test will be about CS Lewis and The Great Divorce.

If you haven’t already sent me the rough draft of your Frankenstein in Pop Culture paper, I expect to see them all pop in my inbox by tomorrow. I’ll read through them and offer feedback this weekend.


Listen to the lecture first. Then read Ch. 1-8 in The Great Divorce.

Then, start a new Google Doc and answer the following questions substantively:

  1. The concept of hell always brings to mind images of fire, torture, and physical pain, but Lewis chose instead to craft The Grey Town as desolate, full of grouchy, aggravated people who are either fighting with one another or stowed way in isolation. Do you think this is effective? Why or why not?
  2. What is the Poet’s main flaw? Share a passage from the text that best describes him. (Ch.1-2)
  3. The narrator’s interaction with the Intelligent Man provides more information about The Grey Town. What is your understanding of how the town works logistically and economically? What is the Intelligent Man’s plan and subsequent flaw? (Ch. 2)
  4. Why do you think there is confusion and frustration among the passengers when they settle by the river? The Driver explains they are under no obligation to return to The Grey Town – essentially telling them they have free will – but this isn’t a comfort. It’s another aggravation. Why? (Ch. 3)
  5. What is your interpretation of who the Spirits are? What is their purpose? (Ch. 3)
  6. Compare and contrast Len and the Big Man/ Big Ghost. (Ch. 4)
  7. In Ch. 5, Lewis spotlights the debate of heaven and hell as two separate places or states of being, as opposed to William Blake’s argument in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that they are “two sides of the same coin.”  We learn that the fat man/ghost used to be a bishop (clergy), and yet he wound up in The Grey Town. What’s your understanding of the conversation between Dick and the fat man/ghost?
  8. Summarize your interpretation of this quote from the Narrator as he watched Ikey (the Intelligent Man): “When I remembered what the leaf had felt like when I tried to lift it, I could hardly help admiring this unhappy creature when I saw him rise staggering to his feet actually holding the smallest of the apples in his hands. He was lame from his hurts, and the weight bent him double. Yet even so, inch by inch, still availing himself of every scrap of cover, he set out on his via dolorosa to the bus, carrying his torture.” (Via Dolorosa describes the path Jesus took carrying the cross to his crucifixion.) (Ch.6)
  9. Describe the Hard-Bitten Ghost in your own words. Then share a quote or passage you think defends your claim. (Ch. 7)
  10. What effect did the Hard-Bitten Ghost have on the Narrator? (Ch. 8)

In the lecture, I mentioned that I’d post some photos from my visit to the Eagle and Child pub (formerly known as the Bird and Baby) in Oxford where the Inklings met, so here’s a quick gallery:

November 19

I hope you all enjoy the slew of video clips we watched today. You should know that there are many more to discover when it comes to Frankenstein. If you want to watch them all again, they are posted on the Online English class page.

Hopefully you are starting to carve out a topic for your Frankenstein in Pop Culture research paper. It might be tempting to write about “Frankenstein in Film” or “Frankenstein in Books”, but you’ll quickly discover those topics are too broad. Instead, whittle it down to something more specific. You could analyze Destroyer against Frankenstein. You could research the Universal Monster Movies of the 1930s against Frankenstein. You could take a more modern film, such as Edward Scissorhands or a couple of Marvel Films (Age of Ultron and The Black Panther) and see where that takes you… But I digress. Brainstorm a while. Google some things. 🙂


You certainly aren’t required to start writing now, but I wouldn’t wait until after Thanksgiving to start researching. Your rough draft is due by Friday, Dec. 4.

Here are some details you need to know:

  • Minimum 750 words (though it will likely be more)
  • MLA format required (Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, proper heading and margins, cited sources IN the paper PLUS a Works Cited page)
  • Minimum four sources (the novel plus three more). Remember, Wikipedia is not an academic source, but you can use Wikipedia as a starting point to find academic sources. The links at the bottom of a Wiki page are usually credible.
  • Written in the third person (no reference to yourself or your opinions)

If you’ve never written a research paper before, please reach out to me. You’ll be writing a bigger research paper in the spring, so consider this the paper with training wheels.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and stay well! I will still be answering emails through Tuesday of next week, so reach out if you have questions.

November 12

I am so glad most (or nearly all?) of you enjoyed Frankenstein. Now it’s time to dig into how Victor and his monster have been portrayed and adapted over the last 200 years. I talked a little bit about that in class today with Frankenstein in Baghdad and Destroyer, but there are many more adaptations and re-imaginings to explore.

We will talk more about how the story has been changed and depicted in pop culture next week, but please start researching the direction you want to take for your research paper.

I hope I didn’t go over too quickly the reasons why Frankenstein is still relevant today. Those three reasons I listed are important, and you’ll definitely see them again. I hope you wrote them down.

If you need to listen to the lecture, go to the Online English class page. It’s the same stuff over there. Just disregard their homework deadlines. They are working a few days ahead of you.


We aren’t done with Frankenstein yet! This week, you’re going to listen to two podcasts and answer response questions about them. I hope they help jumpstart your research. You are obviously welcome to use them as a source if something applies to what you’re writing about. If you have an iPhone, you can stream these through the Podcast app.

Podcast: In Our Time: Frankenstein

Podcast: Frankenstein: Our Dark Mirror

  1. Tell me something you learned from the “In Our Time” podcast. 
  2. There are five “chapters” within the Our Dark Mirror podcast. Share something that stuck with you from at least three of them. (Chapter One– Standing On the Shoulders of Giants, Chapter Two– I Bid My Hideous Progeny Go Forth and Prosper, Chapter Three– Monsters Always Come Back, Chapter Four– confronting our monsters, Chapter Five– Frankenstein In the 21st century) 
  3. Do you think monsters are born, or are they made? Defend your answer with content from the podcasts or Frankenstein.

November 5

Many apologies for missing class! Y’all know it breaks my heart to miss out on a day of Frankenstein, particularly since Volume II is my favorite section. Boo!

I hope all of your hearts have softened towards the monster. He’s in bad shape. Abandonment, Loneliness, and Rejection are NO JOKE. Even though Victor has reluctantly agreed to make him a bride, we kind of already know things won’t end up the way we want them to.

If you need to listen to the lecture again, click here.


Finish Frankenstein this week. Then, answer the following questions substantively in your Google Doc:

1. Victor agrees to make a companion for the monster and retreats to isolation and secret-keeping to accomplish it. Why do you think Victor failed to see the signs that it wouldn’t go smoothly?

2. Stricken with grief and despair, Victor vows revenge on the monster and tracks him northward to the Arctic. Why do you think Mary Shelley selected this setting for this part of the story?

3. In both your own words and poignant passages/scenes from the final chapter, compare and contrast Victor (as a character) from the beginning of the book and the end.

4. Did you enjoy Frankenstein? Why or why not? Is it what you expected? Don’t be vague. Tell me what you learned.

Also, if you haven’t started already, do a little independent research on how Frankenstein and his monster have been depicted in pop culture. Consider how you want to approach this essay. We’ll talk more about it next week.

October 29

There are a few things I want you to hang onto from today’s class. Keep the themes we mentioned in your mind – Loneliness, God-Complex, Parentage, Abandonment… As you read Volume II this week, look for how those concepts come into play. Consider how the Quest for Knowledge can go terrifically wrong.

Also, start doing some independent research on how Frankenstein and his monster are depicted in pop culture. There is plenty to discover, particularly since the story just experienced its 200th birthday in 2018.


Read Volume II (Ch. 9-16 or 17, I believe, if your book doesn’t break down into volumes). Then, answer the following questions in your same Google Document from last week. Finish your answers by Wednesday night.

1. Victor feels led to seek revenge on the monster for the deaths of William and Justine and tries to appease his troubled mind by retreating to nature, a classic example of romanticism. When Victor sees and interacts with the Monster in the French Alps (Chamonix), a parallel is drawn between the creator and the created. What responsibility does Victor have to the monster when paralleled with God’s responsibilities to Adam? (Chapter II/10)

2. Chapter III/11 begins the creature’s tale in his own words. Based on his experiences and maturation, as well as his interactions with the De Lacey family, has your view on the monster changed? How?

3. Road-map the path the monster took from an innocent “child” to a vengeful murderer? Summarize his character’s progression as you understand it.

4. Chapter VIII/16 ends with the monster making a final request of Victor. What does he want, and why do you think he wants it?

October 22

Today we began what will be my favorite section of the class: Frankenstein. We are all familiar with that name because of pop culture, but I can’t let you leave my class without you knowing the original story of Victor Frankenstein and his monster. I will not ask you to recreate Mary Shelley’s family tree on a test, but it is important you recognize how her family structures shaped her storytelling. (That might be something I ask you about later.)

Also, be sure you understand how the Enlightenment led to Romanticism.

I fully recognize that Mary Shelley’s writing style might not resonate with some of you. It won’t hurt my feelings if it’s boring. But, resist the urge to disengage with the text. Instead, consider getting a copy of the audio book narrated by Dan Stevens. He does an excellent job bringing the story to life.


Read all of Volume I, including the letters in the beginning from Robert Walton to his sister. (Volume I covers chapters 1-8.) Do not wait until Wednesday to start reading. The text is more challenging than the previous books we’ve read, so give yourself plenty of time to work through it.

Then, start a new document and answer the following response questions by Wednesday night.

1. Explain why this passage is quintessential Romanticism: “The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember.”(Chapter 2, end of the first paragraph) 

2. In Chapter 3, Victor decides to study at Ingolstadt, and while there he takes chemistry class from M. Waldman, who inspires Victor to explore the “deepest mysteries of creation.” What do you consider to be the difference between determination and blind ambition? Are the two connected or mutually exclusive?

3. Victor spends a lot of time alone studying and working on his creation. What happens in extreme isolation? Good things, bad things, both? Give examples from the text and/or your own experiences to support your ideas.

4. A prominent element of Gothic fiction is decay, which is why cemeteries are a common setting in the genre. Victor uses unearthed body parts to piece together his creation, so when the body comes to life, it becomes its own paradox. Compare and contrast Victor’s state of mind while developing his creation and his subsequent reaction with the creation comes to life. Give examples to support your ideas.

5. Victor’s brother, William, is murdered, and a family friend, Justine, is accused of the crime. Victor knows who committed the murder but has made an inner vow to keep the monster a secret. How does Victor’s secret-keeping fit into the book’s Gothic elements?

October 8

Thanks for working hard on your mid-terms today! If you felt like it was harder than you expected, then please take that into consideration for the remainder of the semester. That may mean you need to pay attention more closely, take better notes, or check in with me if you’re confused. You can expect something similar test-wise in December that covers both Frankenstein and The Great Divorce.

For now, I’ll read through your Response rough drafts and make comments as I go. There is no rush to finalize them over the break, unless you want to. Some of you might want to get it out of the way. If you don’t want to fuss with it, no worries. The final isn’t due until Friday, October 23.

In the meantime, get your hands on a copy of Frankenstein (the 1818 version)!

October 1

We wrapped up Fahrenheit 451, which presents us with the analogy of the phoenix and a beautiful picture of people as walking libraries. I always love a good metaphor.

Now that we’ve finished the book, it’s time to write your second paper of the semester. A Response Essay is an opportunity to communicate your personal point of view related to specific questions, themes, and topics. A Response Essay is not a book summary or a list of reasons why you enjoyed it. Rather, it is an introspective reflection of personal beliefs and values.

First, be sure you understand Bradbury’s point of view regarding the quote you choose. Misunderstanding his point could derail your whole paper. This means you need to show that you understand the meaning of what was written and then respond to that meaning. Reflect on your own experiences, knowledge, and opinions as they relate to the story. Consider the things that unnerved you, upset you, and gave you pause.

If you need to do extra research, then go ahead. BUT – resist the urge to lift someone else’s ideas. Be like Montag and think a new thought. Challenge yourself to consider your own opinions. Be sure to cite all of your sources so I don’t accuse you of plagiarizing.

I am not requiring an outline for this paper, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t draft one. Some of you would benefit from outlining your thoughts first before starting on the rough draft.


First, click on this quick story about Samsung’s latest Television Technology, The Wall. If you can afford it, you can have a near life-size TV in your house. Mildred would love it! 🙂

Then, choose one of the following quotes and write a Response Essay that reflects your thoughts and opinions. Do not write a full summary of the book. Instead, offer a few sentences (no more than a paragraph) of context to explain where the quote comes from and what was going on in the scene, but then spend the rest of your essay arguing your point of view.

  • Captain Beatty, pg. 55: “We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.”
  • Guy Montag, pg. 78: “We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I’d burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought books might help.”
  • Faber, pg. 79: “Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches in the universe together into one garment for us.” 
  • Faber, pg. 99: “They are so confident that they will run on forever. But they won’t run on. They don’t know that this is all one huge big blazing meteor that makes a pretty fire in space, but that someday it’ll have to hit.”
  • Granger, pg. 157: “We’re going to build a mirror factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them.”

Aim for 750 words written in Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced. Give your essay a title. And remember – citing scenes means you’ll need a Works Cited.

Share your rough draft by Tuesday night, October 6. If you need more time, let me know. The final won’t be due until after fall break.

If you want to look at the images again from today, here you go:

Finally, make sure your notes are in order for the text next week. You can use notes, but you can’t use your phone or the books.

September 24

Today we discussed Part Two of F-451. I’m glad some of you are enjoying it. I really hope you’re drawing more from this book than futuristic fictional content. Part of the reason why we read speculative fiction, particularly from writers such as Ray Bradbury, is so we can look at our current circumstances and see what’s familiar. Do we recognize anything that connects to this story? Once you start paying attention, it’s hard to look away.

Next Thursday I’ll have a list of quotes from the book. You’ll choose one and respond to it in an essay. The syllabus says you’ll turn in an outline this week, but that’s incorrect. I’m not requiring an outline this time, though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do one. Sometimes an outline helps you organize your thoughts before writing them down. I’m happy to look at your outline if you need me to.

The Response Essay will be similar to the last essay – about 750 words, quotes from the book, etc. But this one will be written in the first person since it will reflect your own thoughts. Be thinking about your reaction to this book. If there’s a particular line or quote that resonates with you, let me know. Perhaps you can write your response essay about it. 

Don’t forget: You have a mid-semester test on October 8.


Finish reading Fahrenheit 451 and answer the response questions below in your Google Doc by Wednesday night:

  1. Bradbury uses television and radio to turn citizens into a mob as Guy becomes a fugitive. Though not present in the book, we know our current media (traditional and social) can have this effect. The world is literally capable of watching big events unfold – for good or for bad. What are your thoughts on all of this access? How do you feel knowing everything you do could be recorded?
  2. Explain your understanding of Capt. Beatty’s role in the book and the meaning behind his eventual fall from power.
  3. Guy runs into men who are trying to preserve knowledge by memorizing works (as it was too dangerous to keep actual books). If you were responsible to preserve knowledge, what areas of information would you endeavor to keep? Why? Would you run the risk of hiding books if you had the ability to?
  4. Why is a phoenix an effective symbol in Fahrenheit 451
  5. Did you enjoy the novel? Why or why not?

Also, if you haven’t finished your Character Analysis, please do so this week.

September 17

I’m glad y’all are enjoying Fahrenheit 451. (Do make sure you are spelling Fahrenheit correctly in your response answers. Some of you need to double-check your work.)

Today we went over Part One, so naturally your job is to read Part Two this week. I will spend the weekend reading and grading your Character Analysis essays. As I explained in class, I’m a bit behind. Thanks for being patient with me.

Your next paper will be a Response to this book, so if something jumps out at you and you want to respond to it in the essay, take notes. You’ll be grateful later.


Read Part Two of F-451 and answer the following questions substantively in the same document you used last week. Finish your work by Wednesday night:

  1. Montag reached a breakthrough when he said, “We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I’d burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought the books might help.” What are your thoughts on the differences between physical and spiritual needs? What has Montag begun to realize?
  2. What’s your interpretation of Faber’s words: “Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.”
  3. Faber says that three things are missing from people’s lives: 1) quality information, 2) leisure time, and 3) the freedom to act on things they learn from the quality information and the time they have to consider those things. Even with these revelations, Faber is reluctant to act. Consider his hesitation. Put yourself in his position and weigh the risks. Argue both sides – to act or not to act.
  4. Part Two ends with the firemen responding to a call to Montag’s house. Capt. Beatty makes sure Montag is on that run. (“You’ll be fine. This is a special case. Come on, jump for it!”) Do you think Capt. Beatty set him up? Why or why not?

September 10

*I’m updating this page on Wednesday, Sept. 9 since I won’t be in class on Thursday, Sept. 10*

The substitute should’ve played you the recorded lecture I used for the online English class. As I said in the lecture, the only real difference between this class and the online class is the deadline for work. So, when I say something is due Sunday for the online class, that means Wednesday for you.

If you need to listen to the lecture again, click here. Be sure to take notes so you’ll have these things handy for the test in a few weeks.

One of the first things I reference on the lecture is a print by Ward Shelley called “The History of Science Fiction”. It’s a stunning illustration that I have hanging on my wall. Please try to zoom in on it and find the books and movies you recognize. Start in the top lefthand corner with “Fear and Wonder” and follow the works as they off-shoot to other titles and ideas.

If you haven’t emailed me your rough draft of the Character Analysis, please do so today.


Read Part One in Fahrenheit 451. Then, start a new Google Document and answer the following response questions substantively:

  1. Writers of speculative fiction like to play with the question “What if?” as a way to propose a potential future. In Fahrenheit 451, censorship is a primary theme. Imagine a world where all books of any substance were banned. How would that make you feel? Do you see anything in our current culture that concerns you when it comes to censorship? 
  1. Clarisse is a girl unlike anyone Guy has encountered before. With her carefree attitude and keen eye for the little things, she helps shift Guy’s perspective on his life and the world around him. What do you think Clarisse’s presence represents in this story? What do you consider some of her more powerful quotes to Montag, the words that start to shift his brain? 
  1. Guy and the firemen try to arrest a woman who refuses to stop reading and surrender her books. In defiance, she martyrs herself, lighting herself and the house on fire. This is a jarring image, but it speaks to the lengths people will go for something they believe in. Consider what it means to be a martyr. What qualities and characteristics must one have to fully surrender to one’s beliefs, even if it results in death?
  2. What’s your interpretation of this quote from Captain Beatty? “We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon.”

Finally, edit your rough draft and resend a final version that includes a Works Cited page. Have everything to me by Wednesday night. If you need an extension, please let me know ahead of time. Late work – without prior notice – gets a lower grade.

September 3

Today we wrapped up We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Thank you so much for participating in the conversation. That’s what makes the class so much fun (for me). Like you, I get tired of hearing myself talk, so thank you for raising your own voices.

Now that we’ve fully dissected Merricat, Constance, Uncle Julian, and Cousin Charles (and Jonas, to an extent), it’s time for you to put your own thoughts down on paper. Focus on what is crucial and unique to the character you’ve chosen.

Aim for 750 words. Follow MLA format and cite your sources. You must quote scenes from the book to support your claims. Remember to include a Works Cited page at the end. At the very least, you’ll have the novel as a source. If you do any other outside Googling, you’ll need to cite those sources.


Write the rough draft of your Character Analysis and share it with me via Google Docs no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 8. If you have questions along the way, please reach out. I’m happy to help.

We’ll start reading Fahrenheit 451 next week, so grab a copy of the book soon.

August 27

Here are the terms I hope you wrote down in your notes, because you’ll likely see them again: Genre, Gothic Mystery, Literary Realism, and Formal Realism.

This week you’ll finish reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle and start working on your outline for the Character Analysis. If you have no familiarity with outlining papers, click here to see an example. It’s a pretend outline, of course, as if I’m writing a Character Analysis about Hermione Granger. You’ll see that the thoughts are loose with plenty of room to expand. But, you’ll get the general idea of what I’m looking for in your work. The basic bones of an essay include an introduction (with a thesis statement), a handful of body paragraphs, and a conclusion that wraps up your main points and leaves a final, strong impression. If you’ve been making notes on a specific character while reading the book, you may already have some of this fleshed out.

Remember: A Character Analysis looks at a character objectively to discern his/her role in the book. This isn’t a paper on what YOU think about the character. Instead, you want to take Merricat, Constance, Uncle Julian, Cousin Charles, Jonas, or the Blackwood House (as we discussed today) and offer a concrete argument for his/her purpose, impact, and role. Resist the urge to include your personal opinions.


Finish reading Castle. Then, open your Google Document and answer the following response questions substantively:

1. In Chapter 6 (Page 77 in my book), Charles finds Mr. Blackwood’s gold watch nailed to a tree. In your own words, describe each character’s reaction to this discovery.

2. Constance admits to Merricat that she “let Uncle Julian spend all his time living in the past and particularly re-living that one dreadful day. I have let you run wild; how long has it been since you brushed your hair?” (pg. 79 in my book) To which Merricat narrates: I could not allow myself to be angry, and particularly angry at Constance, but I wished Charles dead. Constance needed guarding more than ever before and if I became angry and looked aside she might very well be lost. What is your interpretation of this exchange? What does Merricat mean by “lost,” and why do you think Constance blames herself for Uncle Julian’s and Merricat’s behavior?

3. What does Merricat’s fantasy conversation at the end of Chapter 7 tell you about her as a character?

4. On Page 105/106 (in my book), Fire Chief Jim Donell helped put out the fire on the Blackwood’s second floor. He is also the first one who picked up a rock and threw it at the house. What is your understanding of this juxtaposed scenario? 

5. Merricat’s obsession with living on the moon comes full circle in Chapter 9. Why do you think she says to Constance, “We are on the moon at last.” What does she mean?

6. Why do you think Merricat sets rules for herself? Why do you think Constance allows her to? 

7. Did you enjoy this book? Why or why not? (You won’t hurt my feelings if you didn’t like it. I appreciate honesty!) 

Finally, draft an outline for your Character Analysis. Share both assignments with me by next Wednesday night. Reach out if you have questions.

August 20

Welcome back, everyone, and welcome to the new folks! I’m excited to read these books alongside you and help you make sense of them.

Today we reviewed the basic flow of the class, and I introduced you to Shirley Jackson and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. As I said, do take notes each week as this will be a gift to yourself when it’s time to take an open-notes test (the first test is Oct. 8).

If you haven’t read “The Lottery” but are curious enough to read it, click here.

Finally, please let me know if you have no familiarity with MLA format. I am happy to help you!


Read Ch. 1-5 in Castle. Take some mental notes on the character who’s most interesting to you. Remember, your first essay will be a character analysis, so it might also be helpful to take actual notes (or dog-ear some pages) in case there are scenes you want to find again.

Then, create a Google Document, title it “Castle Response”, and answer the following questions substantively (with substance):

1. In the first paragraphs of the book, we learn a lot – Merricat and her sister Constance live together with Uncle Julian, and the rest of the family is dead. 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) 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) What do you think about Constance’s responses to the women and conversation as a whole? What does Constance’s 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 (think Halloween tropes). 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. 

Share the Google Document with me (jennie@jenniecreates.com) by Wednesday night. If you want feedback prior to class, send it by Tuesday. Be sure that you give me access to make comments on the document. If it’s “view only,” then I can’t comment. Ask for help if you need it!

If you need to listen to everything again, or if you miss class, I’ll post a weekly recording of my notes. Click here to listen to Week 1.


I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll be able to meet in person ALL YEAR. With that hope in mind, I’m looking forward to seeing all of you in August. If you’ve been my student before, we don’t need any introduction. If you’re new to my class and style of teaching, I hope we’re a good fit.

The class rules are simple:

  • Do the work I assign and be in touch if you’re confused. I’m here to help! You should never turn in work with the disclaimer that you didn’t understand something. ALWAYS reach out to me for clarification. I’m easily accessible. Promise.
  • Be respectful of other students’ opinions, and be courageous about sharing your own. Literature is meant to be discussed. No one, including me, wants to hear my voice for 55 minutes straight.
  • You won’t like every novel or story I assign, but that’s not my goal. Rather, I want you to recognize each work’s significance and impact.
  • MLA format is SUPER BORING AND TEDIOUS, but the sooner to accept that hard truth and move on, the easier it will become to apply it to your papers. Please familiarize yourself with Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) or the MLA Handbook.
  • Make sure you’re up to speed on using Google Docs. You’ll submit your homework and essays by sharing documents with me so I can edit them and leave you comments.

If we get the privilege of starting in person but have to move our classes online, I’ll record weekly lectures in audio format and schedule occasional Zoom meetings so we don’t forget what each other looks like.

Fall 2020 Reading
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818 edition)
The Great Divorce by CS Lewis

Spring 2021 Reading
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare (No Fear Shakespeare)
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Long Way Home: A Memoir by Saroo Brierley (978-0425276198)
Short stories and poetry will be provided