Posts Tagged ‘american literature’

Great Quote on Literature

Dear Reader,

I found this in Catch-22 (which ironically I was reading in preparation for making my high schooler read and write an essay on it):

“He knew everything about literature except how to enjoy it.” (Joseph Heller, Catch-22, p. 78)

Kind of makes you rethink literary analysis, huh?  . . .but my son still needs to write his essay 😉



10th Grade Lit: American Bestsellers

Dear Reader,

For 10th grade literature this year I had my oldest do a course on Great American Bestsellers. (You can read about all our Charlotte Mason-y homeschool plans here.)

The idea for this course is from The Great Courses. I based it on and used their audio series of that title. The class actually includes many more books than we were able to do but I picked those that I thought would be the best fit for us. For each one I had my son read the book. After he had finished I gave him an essay type question to answer and then we listened to the lecture together. I also read each of the books. Some I had read in my youth but had a sketchy memory of and I wanted them to be fresh in my mind so I could make sense of his essays.

A couple of notes on The Great Courses: We have used a few of their products. Their quality varies with the professor who teaches them. I tried and rejected another one of their American Lit courses as being dry and unnecessarily mature in content. I bought the CDs but they also have audio downloads and your local library may also have copies (mine has quite a lot of them). They also have frequent sales so if you are in no hurry, wait for one. You could do the course I had my son do without the lectures. I don’t really see any good reason to spend extra money for the video version for this subject. The lectures are each 30 minutes and we did them on the way to his bagpipe lessons when we had to be in the car anyway.

The books covered by The Great Courses’ class are: The Bay Psalm Book, Common Sense, The Last of the Mohicans, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ragged Dick, Little Women, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Virginian, The House of Mirth, The Jungle, Main Street, The Maltese Falcon, The Good Earth, Gone with the Wind, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Grapes of Wrath, Native Son, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, The Woman Warrior, and John Adams.

There is no way we could have made it through all these books in a year. I eliminated some for not being fiction, others for being long and/or not of likely interest to my son. The books he ended up reading were: Common Sense (not a book or fiction but a short selection to get our feet wet), Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ragged Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Maltese Falcon, Of Mice and Men (substituted for the much longer Grapes of Wrath), To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catch-22. Huck Finn I actually let him do as an audiobook but he still had to write a paper and listen to the lecture. Little Women, the Last of the Mohicans and Gone with the Wind we watched the movie versions of and listened to the lectures but he did not have to write on. I might make my daughter read them when her turn comes though, but I didn’t think my son could make it through two long girly books. The Good Earth he started but just couldn’t seem to get through so much to my chagrin I let him drop it. Catcher in the Rye I started to (re)read and remembered that it is pretty much annoying teens sitting around talking and using bad language. I hated it and didn’t want to keep reading it so I dropped it. We also listened to the lecture on The Bay Psalm Book. We are already pretty familiar with Psalters so there was really nothing to read here.

Here then are the questions we used for each book we did do. The Great Courses gives sample questions in the guide that comes with the lectures. Occasionally I used these. More often I googled essay questions and selected and/or modified ones I liked.

Common Sense

I’m embarrassed to say I can’t seem to find the exact question I had him answer on this one. I think it was along the lines of: What arguments does Paine give to justify his cause (rebellion)? Are these arguments convincing?

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

1. Faith plays a large part in the book. For each of the following characters, write a paragraph saying what they believed and how it affected their actions:

Uncle Tom

George Harris

Augustine St. Clare

Miss Ophelia

Little Eva


the Hallidays (the Quakers)

Simon Legree

2. What do you think Harriet Beecher Stowe’s view are? Is there an overall statement about faith she is trying to make? Can you discern what she believes or which character(s) she would most agree with?

Ragged Dick

What does the author, Horatio Alger, value? What would he say one needs to get ahead? Give specific examples from the book to support your position.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

In Ragged Dick we touched upon the moral system of the author– in particular what he views as good behavior and what he sees as the consequences of good behavior.

The situation is a lot more complicated in Huck Finn. Discuss the moral world of the book and its author. The following questions may help you think about this and can figure in your essay (but don’t have to if you don’t find them helpful):
1. Think about lying in the book. Are there good and bad lies (to the characters)? What defines the difference?
2. What about the morality of helping an escaped slave? How does Huck view it? Tom? Why do they do what they do? Who is more moral?
3. Where does Huck draw the lines between good and bad? What actions (his own or of other characters) does he approve of or disapprove of?
4.  where in the book do moral values come from? The community? The family? The church? One’s experiences? You might want to answer this question for a few different characters.

5. What do you think Mark Twain’s view is? In Ragged Dick the author’s opinion was obvious. Is it here? Is there one character that you think Twain would agree with? Does he even give his own view? Or does he maybe just criticize others? Is he saying anything about society’s views?

Again your essay doesn’t need to address all these points. Think about them and see what you can come up with and then link it all together in one essay on the general topic “the moral world of Huck Finn.” I would like you to touch on Mark Twain’s own view though if there is anything we can discern about it.

The Maltese Falcon

It’s one question — answer the main one and weave in the other ones if they are useful: Write an essay about what motivates Sam Spade. Does he demonstrate commitment to his profession? If so, how? Is he a hero or an antihero? Are his motives the same as the other characters’? Are they nobler?

Of Mice and Men

Why does George stay with Lennie? Why does he do what he does at the end of the book? Think about each of the minor characters. What information or insight do they contribute to the story? These seem like 2 question but I think they relate. Try to weave them into one essay.

To Kill a Mockingbird



Is Yossarian crazy? How do he and the other characters deal with the difficult situation they are in? Pick a few characters and discuss how they deal with the hardships or war and life in the military. Who do you think handles it best? Why? Does anyone have a sane response?


9th Grade Lit: American Poets

Dear Reader,

This is part two of what we do for 9th grade literature. You can find part 1, which covers American short stories and essays, here. In truth, I interweave the two and go chronologically, but it seemed easier to blog about them one at a time. Scroll down for all the nitty-gritty details.


9th Grade Lit: American Poets

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I got the text of these poems from the Poetry Foundation website and got notes on each from Enotes. Many of these we did together as a family when my oldest went through the course. We also cover Emerson with essayists.

  • Read “Hamatreya” and discuss Emerson’s view of land ownership. (Reading the blurb from Enotes will help the teacher know what to expect.)
  • Read “The Snow-Storm.” What is this poem saying? What metaphor is being used?  To what is the snow-storm compared? What is Emerson saying about art (again Enotes will help here)?
  • Read “Days.” Emerson had a fairly idle life as a poet and essayist in the midst of a very busy culture. How does he reflect on this in this poem? What is he feeling about his own life? What picture does the poem give?
  • Read “Concord Hymn.” We actually had seen this poem recently on the monument at Old North Bridge in Concord where it is inscribed. Discuss the events behind the poem (note that the poem itself was written long afterward). What does the poem say about the purpose of the “votive stone”?
  • Read “The Rhodora.” What is Emerson saying the purpose of beauty is?
  • Read “The Humble Bee.” How does Emerson use sound and form in this poem? How does he compare the bee to humans? Which one has the preferable life?
  • Read “Forbearance.” What is forbearance? Look it up in the dictionary and write out a definition. What things does Emerson think show forbearance? How would he define it?
  • Read “Each and All.” What point is Emerson trying to make? (Hint: reread the 9th-12th lines.) What examples does he use to support his argument?

Walt Whitman

I used a few resources for Whitman: Poetry for Young People, GradeSaver, and the Academy of American Poets. I pieced together questions for the various poems. You will also need a more complete book of Whitman’s poetry.

“Song of Myself”

I used the excerpts from the Poetry for Young People book for this one.

  • Stanza 1: What do you think he means by “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”?
  • Stanza 2-end: What does he see in the grass? What does it represent? The Bible says “man is grass.” Do they mean the same thing? Why or why not?
  • What do you think Whitman believes about God? Man? Sin?
  • Whitman called his book of poetry Leaves of Grass. Why do you think he did?

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! my Captain!”

These poems are both about the death of Abraham Lincoln, read them together and compare and contrast.

“Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand”

Read the poem. What is this poem about? Hint: what is being carried in hand? What is he saying about writing?

Various other poems

I selected various other poems from a big book of Whitman’s work that we had checked out and had my son write paragraphs telling what he thought they meant. Among those we used were: “A Sight in camp” and “Come Up From the Fields.”

Emily Dickinson

I used a number of different sources for Dickinson: the Poetry for Young People book, GradeSaver, Mr. Gunnar’s site, and the Big Read. For some of these I had my kids write out answers, others we read and discussed aloud. FYI Dickinson did not title her poems; they are named by their first lines.

  • Read “I heard a fly buzz” and “Because I could not stop.” Compare the two death scenes.
  • Read “Success is counted sweetest” and “I’m nobody.” Compare and contrast.
  • Read “To fill a gap.” What is this poem saying? How does its form contribute to its meaning?
  • Read “Tell all the truth.” What is this poem saying? How does she feel about truth?
  • Read “The bat is dun.” How does she describe the bat? What can we learn from him?
  • Read “A light in spring.” What is the poem saying about nature? About God?
  • Read “Behind me dips – eternity.” What does she say about eternity and life and afterlife? What is the tone of the poem by the end?
  • Read “They shut me up in prose” and “I dwell in possibility.” How does she portray pose? Poetry? What does the house represent in the second poem? What do these two poems have in common? How can these be read as feminist poems?
  • Read “Safe in their alabaster chambers.” Think back to other Dickinson poems you have read as well. Does she write more about death or life? What is her view of death and the afterlife?
  • Read “This world is not conclusion” and “I know that He exists.” It has been said that Dickinson was “not entirely orthodox in her Christian faith.” How do we see that in these poems? What are her beliefs?

Robert Frost

I relied heavily on the Cummings Study Guides for Frost except for “Birches” for which I used Shmoop.

“The Road Not Taken”

  • Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Read “setting and background information” from the Cummings guide.
  • Go through the poem again. Write a summary of each stanza.Read through Cummings’ summaries and notes.
  • Which road does the title refer to?
  • Write responses for study questions 1,2, 3 and 5 from Cummings.

“Fire and Ice”

  • Read the poem. If reading aloud, have copies for all students so they can follow along.
  • See if the students can figure out the meter of the poem and its rhyme scheme. From the Cummings guide read “meter” and “rhyme.”
  • Define alliteration, anaphora, and paradox. Find examples in the poem.
  • Read “Dante’s influence” from the Cummings guide. What does Frost think is worse — desire or hatred/betrayal? Do you agree?

“The Mending Wall”

  • Read through the poem. What is the central theme or question of the poem? What is the neighbor’s view of walls? How is the neighbor portrayed? What are the pros and cons of walls? What does the poet/speaker think of walls? What is the verdict of the poem? Why does he help his neighbor rebuild?
  • Read the poem again. Can you determine the format/meter of the poem? Read “verse format” from the Cummings guide.
  • From the Cummings guide read “literary devices and imagery.” Write out definitions and examples for: anastrophe, metaphor, personification and hyperbole.
  • What types of walls separate people? How are walls in the Bible symbolic?

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

  • Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Find specific words n the poem that tell you about the time and place. Who are the characters? Read “Intro” from the Cummings guide.
  • Go through the poem again, stanza by stanza. Summarize each one and then look at the Cummings guide notes.
  • Define alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor and personification. Find examples in the poem. What is the meter of the poem? Discuss end rhyme versus internal rhyme (see Cummings guide notes).
  • Why does the author like the woods? Read Cummings Guide “meaning.”


  • Read the poem. Summarize it. What is the form (style) of the poem? Read “Blank verse” from Shmoop.
  • Reread the poem. What is the contrast being made? List the characteristics of the boy swinging and the ice storm. What do each of these represent?

T.S. Eliot

Eliot was American but renounced his US citizenship. Nonetheless, I included him among our American authors. Some of his works are long and tough. Others are quite fun.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (printable assignments here)

  • From the Cummings guide read “Explanation of title” and “type of work.” Read the Dante quote, its translation and the note about it. Read the first 2 stanzas. How does he describe the setting? the mood? What do you think the 2nd stanza means? How are the women portrayed?
  • Read “speaker”, “characters” and “themes” from the Cummings guide. Read stanzas 3-10. Give a brief summary of each.
  • Finish reading the poem. In stanza 11, who is being alluded to? (Hint: Note the head and prophet references.) Stanza 12: Read Luke 16:19-31. Stanza 14: How is Prufrock like Hamlet? How is he different? Stanza 15 to the end: How does he end it? What are his thoughts now?
  • Find examples in the poem of simile, personification, metaphor, alliteration, anaphora, and hyperbole.

“Sweeney among the Nightingales”

  • Read the poem. Discuss the setting. From the Cummings guide, read about Agamemnon and his connection to the poem.
  • Read the poem again and go through stanza by stanza. Note the rhyme and meter.
  • Read the poem once more. Discuss its meaning.

Various shorter poems

  • Read “A Song for Simeon.” If you are not familiar with it, read the biblical passage on Simeon. How does Eliot portray Simeon?
  • Read “Journey of the Magi.” If you are not familiar with it, read the story fo the magi from the Bible. How does Eliot portray them?
  • Read “the Hippopotamus.” What two things are being compared? Does this surprise you? How are they compared? What is the end of each? What point is Eliot trying to make?
  • For fun read selections from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

ee cummings

Read “in Just.”

  • What is happening in this poem?
  • Read it aloud. What do you notice? Which words/phrases/sounds do you like?
  • What is the effect of the way the poem is laid out?
  • Read Shmoop’s summary:

“What’re they good for? Well, here’s our best Shmoop expert opinion: when you read a line of poetry aloud, your eyes (and therefore your voice) tend to speed on to the end of the line. Try it and see. When you read “in Just-,” however, the spaces slow your eyes down. More importantly, they slow your voice down, as well. As you’re reading, you’re thinking, “Huh? I totally don’t know whether to pause for the spaces or not!” And even in that time that it takes to think that through, your voice slows oh-so-slightly. Kind of cool, huh?So we pause during the lines. So what? You can almost hear the time that it takes for the balloonman’s whistle to travel across the playground. The space between “whistles” and “far” mimics this time. It’s like we actually see the sound and maybe even its echo afterwards.

One more thing: did you notice what we haven’t got in this line? Punctuation.”

  • Who loves spring (in general, not in the poem)? What about the ballonman? How does he fit in here? Why does he get to be part of spring? (Notice the end about his feet — what does he look like?)
  • Read pp 78-80 in Liberated Imagination by Leland Ryken.

Assignment 2: “somewhere I have gladly traveled . . .”

  • Read Background on cummings:

“No doubt, E. E. Cummings was a rebel. Even before he made his name as a poet, he was rubbing authority figures the wrong way. One famous story happened during World War I, when Cummings was volunteering as an ambulance driver in France. Cummings got annoyed with all the rules and started sending coded messages back home just to see if anybody would notice. They noticed, alright, and Cummings got locked up in an internment camp under suspicion that he might be a traitor and a spy. He actually wrote a novel about the whole experience called The Enormous Room. (Click here for more of the deets on Cummings’s crazy life story.)

Cummings’s wartime rabble rousing was nothing compared to what he was soon to unleash on the literary world. See, our rebel-poet was also a painter and became really inspired by Modernist art movements like Surrealism and Cubism, which exploded the rules of traditional painting. Cummings didn’t see any reason why poetry couldn’t recreate itself just as radically as the world of art was doing at the time. So he brewed up a signature style that thumbed its nose at traditional rules of poetry and took the form into new dimensions. Of course, you can’t expect to go around breaking a bunch of rules without ticking some people off. Some critics accused Cummings of being weird for weird’s sake, while others seemed to think that he just had no idea how to write a “real” poem.”

  • Stanza 1: note that there is no space in “travelled,gladly” This is not a typo. Why does cummings do this?
  • What is the “trip” the speaker is taking?
  • Stanza 2: Think about closing and opening and eyes in this poem. What do you notice? What is weird? What do you think it all means?
  • Notice that the one capitalized word is “Spring.” What is the effect of this?
  • Stanza 3: Notice the smooshed words again “beautifully,suddenly” What has changed in this stanza?
  • Stanza 4: What words are smooshed in this stanza? What is different this time? What do you think that means?(Hint: how are colons supposed to be used?)
  • What greater meaning can you get from this poem? How do you think the speaker would define love? Why does he love this woman? How do you think she feels about him?

Read “my father moved through dooms of love”

  • Do you see any progression in the poem?
  • Overall, do you think the poem presents a positive view of death, or is it more doom and gloom? Why do you think so?
  • Which would you say the speaker values more: the rewards of the afterlife, or the rewards of life itself? What parts of the poem give you your ideas?
  • Do you think that the speaker’s father would agree with his son’s attitude toward death? Why or why not?

9th Grade Lit: American Short Stories and Essays

Dear Reader,

As I work my way through my children, I am slowly editing the original plan I used for 9th grade literature for my eldest. My second is just finishing up her freshman year. She had already had some exposure to the authors he studied so I ended up shortening some sections and adding new ones. The topic I have chosen for their 9th grade year is “American poetry, short stories and essays.” I prefer to go through them all chronologically, interspersing the poetry with the longer works, but for the purposes of this post, I am going to give you the short stories and essays. Look for a post on poetry soon and for 10th grade lit which is when we do American novels.  Before getting into the meat of it, I should add that I combine this material with Life of Fred grammar and Spelling Wisdom  for dictation to make a 9th grade English course.


9th Grade Literature: American Short Stories and Essays

Washington Irving

Irving is really the beginning of American literature. That is, he is the first to consciously make American literature. His stories are fun to read and are probably familiar so they make a great introduction to our course as well. I used a couple of different books for the text of the tales themselves. It doesn’t really matter what edition you use for most of these authors. Just make sure it is the original, unabridged text.

I stumbled upon Sterling’s edition [The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving; illus. by Scott McKowen (Sterling Unabridged Classics, 2013)] at our local library. It has discussion questions in the back for all the tales in the book. While I was selective in which ones I chose, I found these an excellent resource so I highly recommend trying to find this specific edition, if not for the texts, at least for the questions. Because these stories are so accessible, they can be studied with younger children as well (I initially did “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Specter Bridegroom” with all my children). Find this info in a Google document here.

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

  • Read the story and write an essay answering the following questions: Compare Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones. How are they similar? How are they different? Which man do you think Katrina should have chosen? Is Ichabod a hero? Why or why not?

“The Devil and Tom Walker”

  • Read the story and write and essay addressing the following: Discuss Tom Walker’s fate and his wife’s. How were they alike? How were they different? What do you think happened to the wife?

“Rip Van Winkle”

  • Read the work. Discuss what changes from before Rip’s long nap and after. What has changed in Rip’s life? What has changed in the country? How have the townspeople changed? What do you think this is saying about the new post-Revolution America? What might Rip’s wife represent? (spoiler: bossy mother England) Are things better or worse post-Revolution (or for Rip post-nap)?

“The Specter Bridegroom”

  • Read the story. This is a lesser known work but we really enjoyed it. There is a lot of humor here. We loved the accomplished young lady who could write her name so well even her own aunts could read it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

We’re getting into a lot tougher stuff after Irving. Emerson is hard; many of his contemporaries didn’t understand him. Yet he is pretty big in the history of American writing. My solution is to be pretty selective and to read excerpts.


I used Mr. Gunnar’s notes for this work. The portion on “Self-Reliance” can be found here. I divided the assignment up into four sessions. The numbers refer to Mr. Gunnar’s discussion questions (see this document).

  • Read through the essay (that is, the portion Gunnar uses). Go through paragraph by paragraph and write briefly what you think the major points are.
  • Reread the first paragraph and answer questions 3 and 4.
  • Answer questions 8, 9, and 10.
  • Write and essay summing up Emerson’s ideas and giving your own reaction to them.

“Nature” chapter 1

I used the text from Emerson Central and discussion questions that I originally got from Mrs. Mammana’s website at Darien Public Schools. Unfortunately the latter appears to no longer be available online. So instead, you can find my version here.

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau follows close on the heels of Emerson, chronologically and idealistically. The two were friends and Emerson encouraged Thoreau. I highly recommend the series of picture books on Thoreau by D.B. Johnson. Even older children can read these to get a brief intro to Thoreau’s life. He is one author whose life is highly relevant to his works. Another fun intro to his life which I recommend is Porcellino’s Thoreau at Walden which presents key events in a cartoon like format. While we discussed the events of Thoreau’s life and have in the past visited Walden Pond and the reconstruction of his cabin there, we didn’t actually read any of Walden beyond the bits in the books I have mentioned.

“Resistance to Civil Government”

I relied on Mr. Gunnar again for this one. His page is here. The relevant discussion questions are in a document here.

  • Read the first two paragraphs and answer questions 3, 4, and 5.
  • Read the third through 5th paragraphs. Answer questions 7 and 10.
  • Read the rest of the essay. Answer questions 11, 12 and 13.
  • Answer questions 16 and 17.

Various Quotes

I printed out a page of Thoreau quotes and chose a few for my son to comment on. You could also let the student choose or pick others of course.

  • Read the quotes that begin “I know of no more encouraging fact . . .” and “The finest qualities of our nature . . .” Discuss what each of these means.
  • Read the quote that begins “No way of thinking or doing . . . ” Copy it. Tell what it means. Tell if you agree.

Edgar Allan Poe

Because this post needed a picture . . .

Whew. If you’ve had enough of transcendentalists, it’s time for something completely different. Poe is fun. Poe is scary. Poe is just plain weird. Kids like him.

“The Black Cat”

  • This story and discussion questions were on Mr. Gunnar so I used it. The relevant portion is here. I didn’t have my son write out answers for this story. Instead I had him read the story in one sitting and then asked him the questions and we discussed.

For the other Poe stories I used the edition illustrated by McKowen [The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe; illus. by Scott McKowen (Sterling Pub., 2010)] and relied upon his discussion questions. If the stories were longer, we took a few sittings to read them and then discussed at the end.

“The Tell-Tale Heart”

  • Read the story. Is the narrator a madman? Why did he kill the old man? How is he caught? Was there really anything to be heard to give him away?

“The Masque of the Red Death”

  • Read the story and answer questions #4 and 8 from McKowen’s edition.

“The Purloined Letter”

  • Read the story. This is a longer story and will likely take more than one sitting. As you go along then, ask what the student(s) think the answer will be: Where is the letter?

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

  • Read the story and answer questions #5 , 7 and 13 from McKowen’s edition.

“The Cask of Amontillado”

  • Read the story and answer questions #6, 12 and 14 from McKowen’s edition. What was the fued between the two men?

“The Pit and the Pendulum”

  • Read the story and answer questions #9 and 15 from McKowen’s edition.

At this point we had reached the end of what my son did but I wanted to add more for my daughter. I had her read one story by each of the following authors just to give her a taste of their work. I found a wonderful book at my library, The Greatest American Short Stories, ed. Arthur Grove Day (New York: McGraw Hill, 1953). The book has questions on each story in the back which I used or modified some of them though many others I rejected.

James Thurber

I knew this story only from the Looney Tunes version. I found the original much more depressing but enjoyed it. Let me know what you think happens at the end. I have my own idea on that as well as on what the pocketa pocketa is.

Read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

  • Think about the names in the story. Do people’s names fit them?
  • What do you think is the significance of the pocketa pocketa sound?
  • What do you think happens at the end of the story?
  • List the qualities of the real life and fantasy Mitty‘s.
  • What is Mitty in his fantasies that he is not in real life?
  • Look at how the dream and real life sequences are written. Are there stylistic differences?
  • What is the effect of this?
  • What is this story saying about masculinity? How would the author define being masculine?

John Steinbeck

Of course Steinbeck was a prolific author and has many longer works as well, one of which is included in my 10th grade literature curriculum. For now we are just getting an introduction. “Leader of the People” features Jody, a boy known from some of Steinbeck’s other works, the best known of which is The Red Pony.
Read Steinbeck’s “Leader of the People”
  • Who changes most is this story?
  • What do the dad and grandfather represent?
  • Why does Jody give up on the mouse hunting?
  • What do you think the theme of message of the story is?

William Faulkner

I remember reading and liking (though not always understanding) Faulkner when I was in high school. I don’t think I’ve read anything of his since.

Read “The Bear

  • Why does the boy get rid of his gun, watch, compass and stick?
  • What do you know about Sam Fathers? What significance does his heritage have?
  • They say that stories can have 3 kinds of conflicts: man vs man, man vs self or man vs nature. Which kind is this? Are you sure?


Another High School Homeschool Essay

Dear Reader,

I recently shared an essay my 10th grader wrote so to be fair I thought I should share one from my 9th grader as well. My point here is to show that kids who have been educated with a Charlotte Mason education and with little direct focus on writing skills can wrote coherently and even better have intelligent thoughts, that they can, as Charlotte says, form relationships with the material.

My dd is working through the American literature curriculum I developed last year for my son which can be found here. Her assignment was to discuss Thoreau’s view of government and her own responses to it. She had some preparation for this in the short answer questions I had her do as she read the passages but was here asked to pull it all together.

In Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Resistance to Civil Government,” he says that he believes the best government is no government. He also says that the government is run by a few people with a lot of power, and those people misuse their power.

I do not think the world would go well if everyone could do whatever they liked. Thoreau is a transcendentalist and transcendentalists believe that the most pure and sacred thing is the human mind. God says that all people have sinful, imperfect minds. If you take the “pure mind” point of view, then no government might work out pretty well. Unfortunately, since people have sinful minds, then if everyone did exactly as they wanted, the world would be chaos because people would want to do sinful things and people do not naturally get along with each other.

If everyone was running around, doing exactly as they pleased, and probably fighting with each other quite a lot, then it is quite possible that a few people would become more powerful and start a government. In other words, there is a good chance that a government would start all over again.

Now, to look at the other side of the argument, there is no reason that just because there [are] laws doesn’t mean everyone obeys them. In fact, there are quite a lot of people who don’t. The laws do cut down on bad things, but they don’t completely get rid of them.

Just because the government says some thing is illegal doesn’t mean that thing is bad. There are probably quite a few laws that outlaw perfectly good things. I think most laws are necessary to keep order, like laws about not murdering, and laws about not yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. There are also a good many laws that don’t really help anyone, like about not running over small children getting off a schoolbus.

Thoreau thinks that the government shouldn’t be able to tax people. There are probably some useless taxes. A lot of taxes, though, help the military, and help to set up libraries and things like that. If one had a choice whether to pay money to fund a library or not, then most people would not pay and would get to use the library for free. That is not fair.

To sum up, I think everyone should be smarter in general. The government should only do what it needs to do. People should pay only taxes that benefit them and society. Thoreau views taxes as a burden because he doesn’t experience any of the things taxes fund because he lives in a tiny cabin in the woods.

Okay, it’s not perfect. She uses the word “things” way too much for too many . . . well, er . . .things. And that last sentence probably should have been earlier on. But, she is thinking about the material and forming her own opinions. Also when I asked her how she knew transcendentalists value the human mind, she said Emerson (whom she studied previously) said so and that he was a transcendentalist too. So bonus points for that. Oh, and the bit about running over school children not hurting anyone? I didn’t teach them that. Honest.


Writing and Literature in a Charlotte Mason Education

Dear Reader,

A Charlotte Mason education is a long-term affair. It can be hard as the parent of younger kids to trust that you are doing the right thing, especially when your (classical) homeschooling friends seem to be doing way more. My oldest two are in high school now and I am starting to see the fruit of their labors. I posted some narrations my eldest did recently. Today I’d like to share an essay he wrote for me.

For a little background, I’ll tell you that this year I am having him study “Great American Bestsellers.” I am using the Great Courses series by that title and have selected 10 or so of their “bestsellers” to read. After each one I have him write me some sort of essay or response and then we listen to the Great Courses audio lecture. He just finished Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. His assignment was:

Uncle Tom’s Cabin Essay Questions

1. Faith plays a large part in the book. For each of the following characters, write a paragraph saying what they believed and how it affected their actions:

Uncle Tom

George Harris

Augustine St. Clare

Miss Ophelia

Little Eva


the Hallidays (the Quakers)

Simon Legree

2. What do you think Harriet Beecher Stowe’s view are? Is there an overall statement about faith she is trying to make? Can you discern what she believes or which character(s) she would most agree with?

And here is what he produced:

In her story, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe paints an array of characters.  Each has unique characteristics and traits.  Belief also played a large part in the book.  Belief very much governed the actions of the characters.

Uncle Tom, as the central character, plays one of the largest roles in the book.  His actions are almost entirely by his belief in the Christian God.  I cannot think of a single instance where he did not act as God would’ve wanted him to.  He always carries his Bible with him and he is loyal unto death.  He gladly takes a beating, unto death, for the sake of Cassie and Emoline.  In his last words he forgave the worst man in the book.  He showed Christianity to all of those around him.  Even if his Christianity didn’t change them he showed everyone the strength of the one, living, and true God.  I feel more like I am writing an obituary than an essay.

George Harris was Tom’s first owner.  I believe that his belief is best expressed at the very end of the book when he frees all his slaves after he witnesses Tom’s death.  Actions speak louder than words, and this action screams about George Harris’s faith.  He is always a good steward of those put under him.  He was definitely a Christian before Tom’s death, but I think Tom’s death opened his eyes to the sin of slavery.

Augustine St. Claire is Tom’s second master and he has a lot more “screen time” than Harris.  St. Claire grew up with Christianity but he was never a true Christian until his final hours.  His greatest love was his daughter Eva and that is reflected very clearly when he bought Tom right up until his death.  He was always kind to his slaves, to a fault.  He had no cares about what the slaves do as long as they get their jobs done.  He doesn’t seem to care about his life, as long he has Eva.  Like everyone else, St. Claire is changed by Eva’s death.  It seems like after Eva’s death he doesn’t have the will to live anymore.  If Eva hadn’t died Tom’s words wouldn’t have rung so true in St. Claire’s heart.  You can very clearly see God’s plan in St. Claire.  His actions in his final hours reveal his heart.  I think at the end of his life he reveals himself to be a Christian.  His major failing was not freeing his slaves, but he simply didn’t have the time for that in his life.

Miss Ophelia is St. Claire’s cousin and spends the majority of the book at his house.  At her introduction she is shown to be an abolitionist but she soon shows she doesn’t know what she is fighting.  She seems to be racist at her introduction but by St. Claire’s death she seems to have changed.  What really had a hand in changing her was seeing Topsy change.  Topsy was given to Miss Ophelia as a gift from St. Claire to act as a ward.  At the start of the book she wouldn’t dream of having a black in her house, but by the end she wouldn’t dream of not having one in her house.  Throughout the book she is a Christian and she is an abolitionist but God calls her to be more effective in her work and for that she needed to understand slavery better.  God did exactly that for her.

Little Eva is portrayed as an innocent from her first appearance to he dying moments.  The two innocents, her and Uncle Tom, both die prematurely.  The Good Die Young.  She is shown to be kind to all creatures, from horse to slave.  She was innocent from her beginning but she only became aware of the presence of God when Tom showed her.  She knew she was dying and she embraced it because she knew she was going to go to the Lord.  Like others, her character was best shown in her last action, making her father promise to free Tom.

(*This would not be in a real essay* It really doesn’t help that Pandora is playing all sad songs.)

Topsy was the little black girl bought by St. Claire to help Miss Ophelia.  At first she was a little devil.  She stole whatever she wanted and then got away with it by asking for punishment from Miss Ophelia.  But even more than Miss Ophelia changed Topsy, Eva changed her.  Eva persisted in showing Topsy the Bible, even after Topsy bragged repeatedly how “very wicked” she was.  Eva’s death was the final blow to Little Topsy and she broke down and finally changed her wicked ways.  She became a firm Christian and ended up helping Miss Ophelia with the abolition movement in the North.

Not too much is known about the Hallidays, but their few actions showed their characters’ beliefs very well.  They showed compassion on fugitive slaves and gave safety and food to the fugitives, even though they knew they would be hated for it.  Their few actions speak louder about their faith than any number of their words could.    They might not have had a perfect faith but they believed in a God of compassion and love and this is what was shown best about them.

Simon Legree was the “villain” of the story and he sure played the part.  He is the one character in the entire book who got any real “screen time” and still kept a hard heart.  (There was the slave trader at the start of the book, but he barely got any screen time.)  He was changed by Tom’s actions, but it was not the same way as everyone else in the book.  He seems to have killed all emotion in himself with the death of his mother.  The ways people deal with death are grief and anger, frequently both, and Legree took his anger to an extreme, so much so that it killed all his other emotions.  He didn’t really seem to be striving for anything either.  He was just cruel.  He would have made a really good Sith Lord.  His killing of Tom was the action that I think showed his character best.  He wasn’t looking for money, or else Tom would have lived.  He wasn’t particularly looking for cruelty either.  It is kinda hard to tell what he was looking for.  Other than him being a superstitious atheist, the only sure thing I know about his “faith” is he lives by the Sith Code.

I think Harriet Beecher Stowe paints herself into this book as the role of Miss Ophelia.  Especially the last chapter, seems to be written from Miss Ophelia’s religion.  It seems interesting to me that the last chapter was so strongly portrayed from Miss Ophelia’s point of view.  Both Ophelia and Stowe are strong abolitionists and females trying to work at it in a man’s word.  My guess would be that Stowe started out with the same racism as Ophelia until she was shown the error of her ways.

What I noticed about all of these characters is that they are entirely governed by their faith.  As long as you know their faith, you know exactly their next move.  This makes the story a lot more relatable because we are all governed by our faith on one level or another.  Having people who act solely on their belief and not on their emotions is interesting and it gives the book a unique aspect.

I’m pretty pleased with the results. We have really done very little in the way of teaching writing. We do a lot of narration including written narrations as well as dictation and copywork. I make observations on some things like “you really need a comma here” occasionally but I don’t tend to overemphasize these things. Last year when I had him study American short story writers, essayists and poets (see this post), I introduced the idea of an essay and talked a wee bit about the form it should take but again we really didn’t spend much time on it.

Now I am not saying this essay is perfect (he misidentifies George Harris for one thing) and I don’t honestly have much basis for comparison but here is what I like about it: he shows original thought (we actually disagreed in our interpretations of Topsy’s character), he writes clearly but with a humorous edge, and he makes connections (very CM!) to other things he knows (albeit Star Wars based). He was shocked and horrified to find that I don’t know what the code of the Sith is though I can guess. I liked his conclusion about Harriet Beecher Stowe and Miss Ophelia though I have no idea if it is true.

I also have an essay from my 9th grader which I will share soon.



Update: 9th Grade American Literature

Dear Reader,

I wanted to give you a heads-up that I have been updating my post on 9th grade American literature as I go through the course with my daughter. Some of the resources I originally used have been taken down and in other instances I have added material that I didn’t use with my son. I expect this editing to continue as we go through the school year so if by any chance you are using this resource, you might want to check back frequently.


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