Pleasant Grove HS English

Friday, August 12

It was good to meet all of you today! I think we’ll have a good year together. If you have any questions, please email me anytime: You’ll also use this email address when sharing your Google Documents.

Today we talked about what you can expect in this class work-wise. Do read through the topics under the Housekeeping tab, particularly if you’ve never taken a traditional high school English class before and have zero experience writing in MLA format, sharing Google Documents, and so on. If you misplaced your homework syllabus, click here to view and print a new one.

We also talked about Shirley Jackson, whose primary claim to fame is her 1948 short story “The Lottery”. Her work is generally unforgettable because it errs on the side of disturbing and bizarre. You’ll see what I mean as you begin We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Since you’re going to write a Character Analysis from this novel, it would be wise to pay attention to how Merricat, Constance, Uncle Julian, and Cousin Charles are developed, how they interact with one another, what their motivations are, and so on. Certainly by next week you’ll need to know who you want to write about for your essay.

Also take note of how Shirley Jackson’s own agoraphobia and small town experience in Vermont might have been the influence for the Blackwood’s experiences in their small town. (This is one reason why it’s important to know about the writers — it’s almost always personal.)


Read Ch. 1-5 in We Have Always Lived in the Castle. If you come across an interesting scene or line of dialogue that might be useful in your Character Analysis, jot down the page number or make a few notes. This is how you help your future self.

Then, answer the following questions substantively in a Google Doc and share it with me by next Thursday night using the email address above. Be sure I have editing capabilities, that the document isn’t “Read Only”. You are welcome to copy/paste the questions into your document, if that’s helpful to you.

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.

Dates to Remember

Fall Semester
August 12: First day of class
October 3-7: Fall Break
November 18: Last day of class

Spring Semester
January 6: First day of class
January 30-February 3: Break for TeenPact
March 13-17: Spring Break
April 21: Last day of class