English A

December 13

On Thursday we played a quiz game for extra credit, and the winning team who got the most questions correct earned an extra two points on their grades. We talked briefly about our plans for January and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My goal is to read everything in class so only response questions have to be answered for homework. Fingers crossed! 

Here’s the cast: 
Theseus – Tyler
Hippolyta – Emma
Egeus – Cailin
Hermia – Bonnie Claire
Lysander – Summar
Demetrius – Me
Helena – Natalie
Oberon – Chance
Titania – Natalie
Robin Goodfellow/Puck – Jane
Peter Quince – Callie
Nick Bottom – Jane
Varies fairies – the rest of the class 🙂 

Do yourselves a favor and give the play a glance before we gather on January 10. It will be helpful to know what you’re walking into! 

December 6

Today we started our unit on Shakespeare. It was all discussion, but I focused on a timeline of his professional life as we know it, along with an accompanying Tudor period timeline to spotlight how perfectly suited Shakespeare was to the Elizabethan Era. Shakespeare’s work transpired at a time of high patriotism and a firm embrace of literature, music, and other arts. (No doubt England needed a cheerful break following the bloodbath of Mary’s reign.) 

We also discussed the authorship conspiracy surrounding Shakespeare, as well as his many contributions to etymology. Little did we know how often we quote the Bard of Avon!

Finally, I did my best to explain Iambic Pentameter, which is Shakespeare’s standard pattern of writing in both rhymed and unrhymed verse (five sets of two syllables – one unstressed, one stressed). There’s also Trochaic Tetrameter, which is the inverse (one stressed, one unstressed). We will not become scholars of Iambic Pentameter in English A. Rather, I want everyone to recognize the pattern for its creativity. If you are intrigued by this pattern, please explore it independently!

My goal for reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream is to act out the play in class each Thursday. I’ve allotted four Thursdays for the play, so it should take up all of January. This will only work if enough students with self-deprecating humor are willing to play a role. There are 15 of us (I’m including myself!), so surely we can muddle through together.

We’ll talk more about this next week, however, if you know you’re already up for the adventure, please read this synopsis and review the characters so you can tell me who you’d like to be. 

In the meantime, please watch the following videos about Shakespeare:
William Shakespeare – in a nutshell
William Shakespeare – Playwright
Understanding Shakespeare
What Shakespeare’s English Sounded Like (we watched this in class, but I’m posting it for those who were absent)
Sparknotes: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream summary (this is a goofy but helpful summary of the play, in case you’re totally unsure about what we’re doing)

Homework for TUESDAY, DEC. 11: Email me your final Cause/Effect paper so I can return a grade to you on Thursday.

If you are behind on response questions or other papers, the deadline for submitting those assignments is Sunday, Dec. 9.

November 29

Today we wrapped up Frankenstein by discussing Volume III, a tedious and emotional few chapters that bring both Victor’s and the Monster’s story to a close. Although Victor initially said he’d make the Monster a wife, thereby giving his creation the one thing he craved (love!), the scientist couldn’t go through with his promise and destroyed the semi-formed female right in front of the Monster’s eyes. Thus sealed their fate that the two would not reconcile.

After the deaths of Henry, Elizabeth, and Alphonse Frankenstein, Victor was irrevocably distraught and spent his remaining time chasing down the Monster. This is how Victor wound up on Walton’s boat, and upon his death, Walton meets the infamous Monster for himself and finally shows the wretch a little compassion. (Walton is the only character who actually learned something!) Despite the Monster’s continual pleas for acceptance, his destiny was to die alone in the wilderness, a terrifically sad ending for someone whose downfall was brought on by isolation and loneliness.

As I stated in class, the ultimate evil of the story is the power of isolation. Both Victor and his Monster suffered for and from it – Victor in isolation for ambition, the Monster in isolation from prejudice.

Now it’s time to weave ideas together for a Cause/Effect paper, which is actually more about Actions/Reactions. Resist the urge to go simple. You will struggle to write 1200 words on a simple if/then scenario. Instead, spend the necessary time to discern the pivotal plot points that solidified Victor’s and/or the Monster’s journeys. Link them together under a broader theme. What were the points of no return? Why are those points connected? What characters served as powerful influences? If they’d banded together, could Victor have been saved from his own downfall? Where could Victor or the Monster have made significantly different or better choices? What are the results of their poor choices?

You may also explore potential solutions that could’ve affected the outcome. We talked briefly in class about a few students giving the Monster a name, and frankly, that’s an interesting consideration. What if Victor had given his creation a name, some version of an identity that didn’t involve words such as wretch and fiend

If you struggle to come up with a solid thesis, please contact me this week and I’ll help you. Remember – whatever direction you go, you’ll need excerpts and quotes from the book to back up your claims. 

 Homework for Tuesday, Dec. 4: 
1. Write your rough draft and email me a link to the Google document by Tuesday, Dec. 4, by 5 p.m.  
2. If you are behind on response questions from any of the three books, please catch up! I will not accept late work after Friday, December 7. 

November 15

Thanks for your patience regarding my little corner of the internet. It’s been a stressful week! 

On Thursday we discussed Volume II (or Chapters 9-17) of Frankenstein, which is a pivotal part of the story. We finally hear from the monster and get his point of view – from his “birth” and “infancy” to his “childhood” and “teen years”. We read how he learned to talk, how he learned to feed himself and find warmth. We read how he observes and studies a French family living in exile, which in turn teaches him about family, relationships, and the companionship of those who care about one another.

However, life for the monster turns sour as he is continually rejected and physically harmed by the humans, a troubling experience when all he tried to do was gain friends, save a girl from drowning, and have some semblance of normalcy.

The monster loses his innocence during his “college years” after reading Paradise Lost and coming to understand the God-Adam/Creator-Created relationship between Victor and himself. In bitterness and desperation, he proposes a solution to Victor to ease his woes: Create a female companion so he won’t be alone and rejected any longer. He vows to leave Europe forever and leave humans alone – even animals, saying essentially that they’ll be vegetarians! – if Frankenstein will please grant his request.

Of course, it’s less a request and more of an ultimatum, for if Victor refuses, the monster will be none too pleased and the rage and bitterness will continue.

Note: For those students who continue to get stuck on the physical design of the monster, please – let it go! It does not matter his blood type, his brain versus his body, and so on. We are reading Science Fiction. Leave those tangible details to science books and medical journals. Besides, we are meant to wrestle instead with how the monster has been nurtured – or abandoned, rather – by the one who created him.

Homework for Nov. 29:
1. Finish the novel.
2. Start a new document and jot down your ideas for the Cause and Effect essay you’ll be writing. (Click here for more information about it.) Share this document with me by Wednesday, Nov. 28 by 3 p.m. so I can see where you’re headed and offer feedback.
3. Answer the following response questions in your Frankenstein doc: 

  • 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?
  • Stricken with grief and despair, Victor vows revenge on the monster and tracks him northward to the Arctic. Do you think Mary Shelley selected this setting on purpose for this part of the story? Why or why not?
  • 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.
  • Did you enjoy Frankenstein? Why or why not? Is it what you expected?

November 8

Information about the class on November 8 and homework due for November 15 was emailed. If you have any questions, let me know.

November 1

We dove into Frankenstein yesterday by hitting the high notes of the four letters from Capt. Robert Walton to his sister and the first three chapters of Victor Frankenstein’s tale. We drew parallels between Robert and Victor – how they are both ambitious people on a quest for knowledge and discovery. However, upon hearing Robert’s excitement and fervor for his expeditions, Victor cued into the man’s potential for destruction and asked, “Do you share my madness?” Thus, in his near-death state, he begins his tale of warning to the captain in hopes of steering him down a safer path.

In short, Victor had a delightful childhood with every possible advantage. Even when Elizabeth was adopted into the family, there was no jealousy or conflict. All was perfectly well. Yet, there was something in Victor that longed for more. He had an insatiable curiosity to learn “the secrets of the world.” More than a passion for knowledge, Victor’s drive became his own obsession. He studied independently, even after being dismissed by his father (calling his books on natural philosophy – i.e., physical science – trash). 

Shortly after this unfortunate encounter with his father, young Victor experienced a pivotal scene – he watched a thunderstorm that resulted in a lightning bold striking a tree. This visual electricity literally flipped the switch on his interests. He began moving away from natural philosophy and toward chemistry and mathematics. There was something tangible Victor wanted to taste – already bookmarking this event as part of his destiny.

After Victor’s mother died, in which he referenced his sadness morphing into bitterness, the seventeen-year-old went on to study at the university in Ingolstadt. There he met two distinct professors – Krempe, whom he didn’t like, and Waldman, whom he did. There, he settled himself a disciple of Waldman’s, who ended up warning the young student to carefully keep his studies in balance

We ended the class discussing Sigmund Freud’s theories about the human psyche – specifically the id, ego, and super-ego. The id represents our instincts (both good and bad), the part of ourselves that can tempt us towards destruction. The super-ego is our shaped self, the moral/ethical influences from our parents, teachers, and overall society. It’s the super-ego that logs basic rules for living (i.e., don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t lie, be kind). The ego is the middle part that keeps the id and super-ego in balance. In theory, the id sees a friend’s toy and wants to steal it. The super-ego reminds the id, “Stealing is wrong.” The ego finds a compromise: Go buy your own toy! 

We aren’t going to become expert philosophers and psychoanalysts in English A, but let’s keeps these things in mind as we watch Victor’s crazy journey unfold, particularly if something stands out as CAUSE and EFFECT.

Homework for November 8:
1. Finish Volume I (or chapters 4-8) in Frankenstein.
2. In your Google Document, answer the following questions. Remember – give me substantive responses, please. One sentence isn’t enough.

  • 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 our conversations in class to support your ideas.
  • 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.
  • 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 25

Yesterday I reviewed a few things collectively regarding response essays:

  • Cite passages and scenes from the book to support your ideas. For example, if you mention Mildred watching the parlor walls as a way to connect how we stare at our phones, please include a citation that references a scene where Mildred is obsessively watching the parlor walls. 
  • Book titles should be italicized.
  • Once you introduce an author (or any person, really) by first and last name in the introduction, you can refer to the person by the last name only throughout the remainder of the essay.
  • It is fine to pose questions in your essay, but it is on you to answer them. Do not pose a series of questions in an attempt to be cerebral and then never address potential answers or solutions. 🙂

I had printer trouble on Wednesday that resulted in needing to buy a new printer, so only three rough drafts were printed and edited. The rest of you who submitted rough drafts received edits via email. Let me know if you did not receive a rough draft with my comments. (Also, I still need rough drafts from a few of you.) 

Now, on to Frankenstein. I will attempt to post more than usual since we had four students absent yesterday, and we talked about important stuff. HERE WE GO: 

It’s tempting to think old books have nothing to do with us or our world today, but the best books are timeless. Frankenstein is no exception. First, dispel what you think you know about pop culture’s treatment of the tall, green monster with plugs in his neck. This is not Frankenstein, nor is it Frankenstein’s monster. Also, dispel what you think about Romanticism. We will not be talking about lovey-dovey, romantic relationships in class, as that’s not what Romanticism in literature is about. 

The Romantic Era followed the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution when ideas about one’s purpose and passion began to shift. There became less focus on logic and reason and more focus on creativity and exploration. Mary Shelley melded these two academies of thought in Frankenstein. Essentially, she stood Science next to the Humanities and let them wrestle. 

Romanticism affected literature drastically, most notably through writing styles. This is where most of you will struggle. Shelley spends a lot of time using descriptive language. (For those of you who were in my Comp I class last year, think about writing the descriptive essay. Now turn that into a novel.) No doubt, some passages feel so tedious and airy that you’ll want to close your eyes and take a nap. Some of you, however, may appreciate the writing style and actually enjoy it. I am one of those people, so please accept my apologies for making you read this book.

There are a couple of things you need to know before diving in: 

  • Frankenstein is an example of Epistolary writing, meaning part of the story is told through letters. The beginning of the book is a collection of letters from Capt. Robert Walton to his sister while on an expedition at sea. He longs for a companion (again, not romantically) who shares his fervor for adventure and exploration. The final letter reveals that he finds a wayward person lost at sea who possesses a bizarre tale to tell – Victor Frankenstein.
  • Volume One begins Frankenstein’s tale as told to Robert Walton, which is how the novel becomes a Frame Story, which is a story told within a story. He begins with bits about his childhood and how his passion for science and discovery was born.

The paper you’ll be writing for Frankenstein is Cause and Effect, so please heed my advice when I suggest you keep a running timeline of events in a notebook or document. You will be tasked to connect the dots between experiences and decisions with their subsequent results, and it will be immensely helpful to your future self when you want to go back through the book to identify certain scenes. Trust me 🙂 

For those who missed class yesterday, please print and read my notes about Mary Shelley, as her life experiences helped shape the writer she became. If you were in class yesterday and want to print these notes as well, please feel free.

On the surface, the content of Frankenstein and the creation of the monster sounds gory, but rest assured there are no gory details. For what its worth, the creation of the monster happens over a couple of paragraphs, which is small potatoes compared to the rest of the book. Besides, I am challenging you to go higher, just as I did with Fahrenheit 451, and consider the themes Shelley addresses with this tale:

  • The role of technology versus humanity
  • The search for self-identity
  • The responsibility of science
  • The nature of humanity
  • The rights of the living
  • The responsibility we have to one another

You are all old enough to take a work of literature and go beyond the basic plot to examine larger ideas. 

Finally, do not wait until Tuesday or Wednesday to read the chapters. Take tiny bites at a time. Read a little each day. And, if you struggle with the writing style, I encourage you to get the audiobook and listen to it as you read. There is nothing wrong with this at all, but you need not abandon the printed text because you’ll be required to reference pages and scenes in your cause and effect paper.

Homework for Nov. 1: 
1. Finalize your Response Essays and bring a printed copy to me.
2. Print and complete Elements of Style worksheet. 
3. Read the Letters and Chapters 1-3 of Volume I in Frankenstein. Then start a new document in Google and answer the following response questions: 

  • You may have heard the cautionary saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” Consider how that warning applies when Walton wrote to his sister in the second letter, “You may deem me romantic, my dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend.”
  • 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)
  • In Chapter 3, Victor decides to study at Ingolstadt, and while there he takes a 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? Do you think the death of Victor’s mother had anything to do with his curiosities about life and death?

October 18

Yesterday we wrapped up our discussion about Fahrenheit 451, which has a redeeming and encouraging ending, as far as I’m concerned. I particularly love the idea of people becoming walking libraries in the effort to protect centuries of history, science, literature, and art. 

Students are now burdened with the task to unpack their thoughts about the novel and craft a response essay. Based on outlines I’ve seen, some are off to a great start, while others are struggling to streamline ideas. I expected the mental wrestling. It’s a good thing. 

However, if anyone hits a wall this weekend, shoot me an email and I’ll help. 

Email me the rough draft of your Response Essay by Tuesday at 5 p.m. Feel free to send it earlier, if you want. If you’re unclear about expectations, review the handout I gave you several weeks ago (linked below in the Sept. 27 entry). 

October 4

We covered Part Two of Fahrenheit 451, and I played a snippet of a scene from the audiobook in class (because I love it). After weeks of building tension, Montag has decided to act so he reached out to someone he hopes will help him. Faber, a former college professor, is cautious, but they find a way to work together. 

The events in Part Two bring two major themes to the surface – Action vs. Inaction and Entertainment vs. Happiness. 

Students, as you finish the book over fall break, spend time thinking about how you might react in Montag’s scenario. Consider what you believe about censorship and the government’s role in protecting us. Ask yourself, What is happiness? What is the right balance of freedom and restraint? Do I see anything happening right now that gives me pause? What makes me the angriest, and what gives me the most hope? Write down your thoughts, and then think a little more. 

Homework for October 18: 
1. Read Part Three (finish the book)
2. Draft a loose outline for your response essay. I don’t expect perfect format, but I expect more than a few words per line. Do your best to convey a few key ideas you plan to address in your response essay. Email me a link to the document no later than Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 3 p.m. If you’re able to work ahead and send it sooner, even better. 
3. Answer the following response questions: 

  • 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?  

  • Explain your understanding of Capt. Beatty’s role in the book and the meaning behind his eventual fall from power.

  • 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?

  • Why is a phoenix an effective symbol in Fahrenheit 451?

September 27

This morning we began our journey through Fahrenheit 451, a work of speculative fiction that’s designed to make the reader think. Yes, I want students to understand what they are reading plot-wise, but I also want students to consider Ray Bradbury’s message. They’ll be writing a Response Paper in a few weeks, so it is equally important that everyone 1) understands the content, and 2) spends time thinking about it.

Part One of F-451 introduces readers to Guy Montag, a fireman in an unnamed town in the future. There is a constant hum from the mechanical world, where owning and reading books is illegal. Firemen are responsible for starting fires, not dousing them. In F-451, they live with a revised history, where sameness fosters equality and no one goes around thinking for himself.

That is, until Guy meets Clarisse, the 17-year-old girl whose family leaves the lights on in the house and has family discussions. Guy’s interactions with Clarisse put him on a path to intellectual freedom, to breaking the law and deciding to read what’s inside the books he’s been hiding in his own house. 

After discussing specific plot points, I showed students a collection of illustrations designed to make them think about our own technology and how we interact with it. Needless to say, the illustrations are jarring, but that’s the point:

In 1953, Bradbury recognized television as a growing concern – how families sat for hours in front of their “idiot boxes,” desperate to be entertained. He projected that our technology would continue to improve -which, of course, it has! – but instead of television, our vices tend to be hand-held. While reading F-451, I hope students will draw parallels between Guy’s fictional world and our own.

Homework for October 4: 
1. Print Elements of Style worksheet and complete. (I know these are tedious and boring, but many of you need the writing practice. It’s good mental exercise! If you are behind, please catch up. You get points for completing them.) 
2. Read Part Two of F-451 and start taking notes on your thoughts. Annotate while you read, if that’s helpful. When it’s time to write the Response Paper, you’ll be glad you have something to refer to. 
3. Answer the following response questions on the document you started last week: 

  • 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?

  • What’s your interpretation of Faber’s words: “Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.”

  • 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.

  • 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 20

After reviewing a few key points regarding rough drafts, I handed out pieces of paper that explained the grading rubric for the three essays being written this semester. Hopefully, students understand what’s expected and what’s at stake. As always, if anyone needs help throughout the week, I’m here! 

I introduced Fahrenheit 451 with a brief history of Ray Bradbury and the cultural and political events that influenced him while writing the book. There is much to be said about this author – his impact on Science Fiction as a genre, his efforts to spur conversation and criticism, and how he considers himself a preventer of futures rather than a predictor of futures. I hope everyone enjoys reading the book, despite it being different from what folks may be used to. 

As you read, try to draw parallels from the book to our current culture. What’s similar? What’s not? Endeavor to make connections on a larger scale. You won’t be writing a book report on Fahrenheit 451, nor a biography on Ray Bradbury. For this chunk of the semester, I’m challenging you to think bigger. Consider what you believe about censorship, control, influence, and other themes. Then, open your mind to consider other sides. You’ll be writing a Response Paper in a few weeks. You may want to jot down personal thoughts as you read. 

1. Finalize your Character Analysis and bring a copy to me next week. 
2. Read this 2013 introduction by Neil Gaiman prior to starting Part One. (Some of you may have this excerpt in your copy of the book.) 
3. Read all of Part One of F-451, “The Hearth and the Salamander” 
4. Begin a NEW Google Document for F-451 and answer the following response questions: 

  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? What would be the immediate consequence? What are the long-term effects? Do you see anything in our current culture that concerns you when it comes to censorship?
  2. Clarisse is a girl unlike anyone Montag has encountered before. With her carefree attitude and a 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.”

September 13

We wrapped up We Have Always Lived in the Castle today and talked more about what’s expected for the Character Analysis paper. Students brought in their outlines for peer critique, and I looked at most of them. (If I didn’t look at your outline and you still want feedback, email it to me.)

Some have a clear vision for their paper, but some are less confident and are leaning towards writing some version of a book report. That’s not what this paper is, no matter how tempting it might be.

What you need to do is making a claim about a character and provide evidence to support that claim. Is Merricat mentally unstable? Prove it. Is Constance living with a swell of regret? Prove it. Is Charles a greedy, selfish, terrible person who made things worse for the sisters? Give evidence to support that claim.

If you need help between now and Tuesday, be in touch.

Homework for September 18 and 20: 
1. Read Section V in Elements and complete this worksheet
2. Write the rough draft of your Character Analysis and submit via email no later than Tuesday, Sept. 18, by 5 p.m. 

September 6

This morning we recapped Chapters 6-8 of our book, which culminates in the climax of the story – a fire set by Merricat and the spoken admission that she was the one who poisoned her family. She is a troubled, multi-dimensional person who is perfect for a Character Analysis. Constance, too, makes for good research. It’s my understanding that most students have chosen one of the sisters as the topic of their first paper, but there are a few rogue students who want to tackle Cousin Charles, Uncle Julian, or a collection of villagers. I look forward to reading them all. 

Homework for September 13: 
1. Finish We Have Always Lived in the Castle and answer the following response questions substantively on your Google Document: 

  • 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?
  • What do you think of Helen Clarke’s intentions to help the sisters? Is it genuine? Also, what do you think is her understanding of the Blackwood daughters?
  • Why do you think Merricat sets rules for herself? Why do you think Constance allows her to?
  • Make a prediction as to what may come of the Blackwood sisters. 
  • Did you enjoy this book? Why or why not? (You won’t hurt my feelings if you didn’t like it. I appreciate honesty!)

2. Read Sections III and IV in The Elements of Style and complete this worksheet.

3. Draft a rough outline of your Character Analysis and bring to class next week for group critique. No need to write full sentences, unless that’s helpful to you in the long run. What I’m looking for is to see that you’ve honed in on a few key characteristics that explain who your character is, what motivates him/her, and other details that flesh out the person’s role in the book. (If you lost the handout from last week, here it is.)  Between notes taken in class, the response questions, and the novel itself, you should be well equipped to prove your theories about the character you choose. 

As always, if you are confused about anything, be in touch!

August 30 

We had another great day of bizarre analysis of Merricat, Constance, Uncle Julian, and, our newest character, Cousin Charles. I hope everyone is enjoying the story, or at least find something interesting about the narrative. I reviewed the expectations for the Character Analysis and handed out an informative paper that provided dates and things to consider. I encouraged students to select the character(s) they want to analyze and start focusing their notes in that direction. We’ll have a group critique of outlines on Thursday, Sept. 13. (If anyone needs help with developing an outline, please let me know. I’m happy to help outside of our designated class time.) 

Some students participated heartily in the class discussion while others kept quiet. This is fine as long as everyone knows he or she is welcome to speak up and offer an opinion. I live for class discussions. No one wants to listen to me talk for 50 minutes, so the more students share their thoughts and observations, the better! So, even if you’re a little shy now, I hope you’ll feel empowered as the semester goes on to share what you’re thinking. There is room for every voice.

Homework for Sept. 6:
1. Read Part II of Elements of Style and complete this worksheet
2. Read Chapters 6-8 of Castle. Then answer the following response questions on your Google Document: 

  • In Chapter 6 (Pg. 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. 
  • (This question was posted last week by mistake, but now it’s appropriate to answer.) 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?
  • How does Charles’ presence and behavior in the house shift the mood? Compare and contrast the atmosphere before he showed up and after? How does his presence affect tension in the story overall?
  • What does Merricat’s fantasy conversation at the end of Chapter 7 tell you about her as a character?
  • 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?

August 23

It’s unfortunate, as far as I’m concerned, that we only meet for 55 minutes once a week. I had four pages of notes to get through on the first two chapters of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but I only made it to page three today. With that in mind, the ongoing response questions are more important than I realized. 

Since the first essay of the semester will be a Character Analysis, the bulk of our conversation centered around identifying key characteristics of Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian, but by no means are their characters fully fleshed out yet. Students need to keep a working list (or chart) of these notes since they’ll serve as reference when it’s time to write the essay. The method of note-taking is entirely up to them – freehand, typed, organized in an actual chart, or categorized some other way – it doesn’t matter. We’ll add to those lists as the weeks go by. 

We also identified that Castle is Gothic Mystery, complete with elements of foreboding, suspense, and a focus on the internal drama among the main characters. 

Homework for August 30:
1. Read Part I of The Elements of Style. Print off and complete worksheet.
2. Read Chapters 3-5 of Castle. Then answer the following response questions on the same document you started last week. Do this by Wednesday, August 29, at 3 p.m.

  • 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.) 
  • Cousin Charles is introduced in Chapter 4, a surprise arrival. Explain Merricat’s reaction to his presence, then describe how Constance reacted. Explore potential reasons why their reactions were different from one another.
  • What’s your impression of Cousin Charles? What do you think his intentions or motivations are? 
  • There is a great deal of suspicion around the origins of the poisoning, but Uncle Julian believes he knows what really happened. Describe your impression of Uncle Julian as a character and explain why or why not you think he knows the truth.

August 16

Today we covered basic expectations for the class so students know what to expect. Taking notes is important since each of the three papers they write this semester will correlate with our discussions.

I went on to introduce the first novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I included biographical information about the author since she, like many writers, pull from real life when writing fiction. Jackson suffered from agoraphobia, which meant her small-town life in Vermont and its specific struggles influenced her writing heavily. (Students who’ve taken a class with me previously should recognize the author as the one who wrote “The Lottery.”) 

Homework for August 23
1)  Write a 500-word (approximate) essay about your three favorite books (or something literary-related) and submit via email by Tuesday, August 21, at midnight. This assignment will help me gauge where everyone is writing-wise. 
2) Read Chapters 1 and 2 of Castle. Then, create a Google Document and answer the following response questions. Be sure to share the document with me so I can reply to you. Submit your substantive responses no later than Wednesday, August 22, by 3 p.m. 

  • 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?
  • “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 sometime 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?
  • 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 her role in the conversation say about her?

Students will start reading through The Elements of Style next week, so please make sure you have a copy. (You don’t need to bring it to class.)

error: Please, no copying.