Core Curriculum

High School 9 - 12 Lessons


Reading and Comprehension Skills
Appreciating Literature of Various Periods
The Victorian Era: Overview...The Victorian era is the period of time when Queen Victoria reigned in England from 1837 to 1901. It was a time of peace. Literature from the previous Romantic era focused on feelings, intuition, and highly idealized situations, but the Victorian era presented subjects that were more ideal but practical. Many stories showed the difficult life lived by the commoners but included a happy ending with hard work, love, and a little luck paying off in the end. However, as the century progressed, the writing became more realistic with a grimmer outlook on life. Where poetry was previously the most popular literary form, novels became more prominent during this era. Novels written during this time often hold a central moral lesson from which the reader can learn. Although these novels were written for entertainment, the authors often took advantage of their literary voice to speak out against the injustices of the day including poverty, child labor, prostitution, the lack of women’s rights, and political injustice. Maybe because of this outcry, by the end of the Victorian era, society was greatly changed. Throughout this lesson, you will discover what life was like during the Victorian era, including what kind of rights the women had. You will find out about famous authors like Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, and Robert Browning. You will take a look at both poetry and novels. You will also learn at least one literary aspect that each author used and learn which ones were popular during that time. These aspects include themes, social and political commentary, character development, puns, concrete poetry, parody, point of view, and figurative language.
Early American Novelists...A soldier in the Civil War, Mark Twain was a prolific writer. “Huckleberry Finn,” “The Prince and the Pauper,” and “Joan of Arc,” represent three of Mark Twain’s many works and display the wide range of his talent in dealing with differing subject matters. In most of his work, Twain illustrates his ability to view the world honestly through the eyes of his protagonists. Later a recruiter for the Civil War, Frederick Douglass was first a slave. In a personal narrative entitled “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave,” Douglass describes the hardships he endured as a slave. In addition to his written work, Douglass also gains renown as a public speaker. Like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe was involved in the abolitionist movement. Perhaps her greatest aid to this movement was her novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” In this compelling and emotionally invested narrative, Harriet Beecher Stowe gives a gripping, but honest account of slavery in the South. Louisa May Alcott wrote “Little Women,” a book translated into more than fifty languages. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and Mark Twain all had an effect on how the black man was viewed throughout the United States. Lincoln even suggested that Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” brought about the Civil War. Further, Douglass helped persons, especially those living in the North, better understand the abuses and injustice of slavery. Through satire, Twain revealed that a small boy can have more wisdom about slavery than educated church-goers. Finally, although Louisa May Alcott did not address slavery in her works, her “Little Women” became so popular that it was transformed into multimedia, from musicals to anime. Other authors promoted social reform by protesting slavery. Alcott promoted a kind of love within the home that could eventually reach out and effect society.
Social Issues in Literature...You might have heard the expression “a picture paints a thousand words.” Through the pictures painted in literature, you can better understand the social issues that impact people in the United States and around the world. A social issue is something that can directly or indirectly affect you. While your family might not be homeless, you may have a friend who recently lost their home and may be living in a shelter. During holidays, many people who have food donate some of their own to families who are less fortunate. You might experience bullying in school which is an example of a social issue. In fact, youth violence was “painted” in the book “The Lord of the Flies.” Some books share the perspective of another culture to help us better understand and accept people who might come from a different background. Several books like “Kaffir Boy”, “The Kite Runner”, and “The House on Mango Street” tell stories about how children and teens from other ethnic groups or cultures survive from day to day. By reading literature with a message about social issues, we can make changes to better our society. In the book, “The Jungle”, the way meat was processed caused the United States government to create laws to regulate food processing. Even children’s author, Dr. Seuss, made statements about social issues that were important to him. These authors knew that, in order to make a change, you first have to take a stand. They chose to write novels to share their experiences or relate the experiences of others. When we read these books, we become better aware of the social issues in our world and can begin to think about how we might make a change to better our world for everyone.
Masters and Masterpieces
Tragedy...Sometimes, a comedy could easily have become a tragedy. Such is the case with A Winter’s Tale. Its tragic tendency is evident when compared to the tragedy Othello. In both plays, a man is jealous of his wife and becomes convinced that she is committing adultery. In both plays, a man refuses to listen to anyone who claims that his wife is innocent. The difference between the plays is that in one, the man kills his wife and in the other, the man barely avoids killing his wife and thus is allowed the opportunity for a somewhat happy ending. Likewise, the tragedy Romeo and Juliet could have been a comedy similar to Cymbeline. In both plays, a girl wants to marry someone against her parents’ wishes. In both plays, she marries her lover in secret; and in both plays, she thinks about suicide. The difference is that Juliet commits suicide whereas Imogen in Cymbeline does not and thus allows the possibility for a happy ending. A tragic flaw is one of the causes of a tragedy but never the only cause. That is, more than one circumstance contributes to a tragedy. Chance or bad luck is sometimes a factor. For instance, Hamlet could have been a comedy if Hamlet had not accidentally killed his girlfriend’s father; or accidentally picked up the sword with the poison tip; or if the queen had not accidentally drank the poison not intended for her. Conversely, the lack of a tragic flaw is not the only reason that a play ends happily. The Tempest has a happy ending. However, Prospero’s flaw of forgetting about practical affairs nearly costs him his life.
Emily Dickinson...After her death, Emily Dickinson was recognized as one of America’s greatest poets. In life, she lived quietly in her home, writing much of her poetry at her desk in her bedroom. She hid her poems away in a box and only shared them with her sister-in-law and mentor. While she gave her sister-in-law at least 100 poems to read during her lifetime, nearly 1,800 were found after her death. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, her mentor, published a handful while she was alive, but worked with a family friend to publish all of Dickinson’s work. Her poetry dealt with life, death, and immortality. As an avid gardener, nature was also a predominant theme in her work. In the poem “I came early”, she transformed the simple act of chasing waves at the beach into a fairy tale world with mermaids and frigates. While historians often called her a recluse, she did enjoy close relationships with her family and a few close friends. During her younger years, she was nicknamed the “Belle of Amherst” and possibly had a fairly active social life. After 1855, she stayed close to home, read books, tended to her garden, and wrote poetry. She didn’t title her work and often used dashes and capital letters to emphasize her thoughts and ideas. Symbolism was predominant in her work as seen in the poem “Because I could not stop for death.” The drive with death was actually the journey through her life from childhood through adulthood. Biographers have described her as an “enigma.” The mystery of Emily Dickinson is uncovered as you read and reflect on the power of her poems.
Nathaniel Hawthorne...Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter portrays the character of Hester Prynne as complex and therefore difficult to analyze. On the one hand, Hawthorne encourages the reader to sympathize with Hester Prynne’s decision to commit adultery and with her situation in general. She is far away from her husband and therefore perhaps lonely. She is drawn to beauty and therefore likely to find herself attracted to a handsome, eloquent man. Her needlework shows that she is gifted artistically, a trait not necessarily appreciated by Puritans. On the other hand, Hawthorne encourages the reader to find some faults in Hester. She cheats on her husband – an act wrong for two reasons. First, it is wrong morally, at least, according to her angry husband. Second, it was wrong in the particular community in which she lived. Even if she disliked the laws of the community, she should probably have chosen to follow the laws; much as a student who dislikes school rules should probably follow the rules if he wants to stay at that particular school. Finally, it is misleading to say that the Puritans cannot appreciate her artistic needlework. After she gives birth, Puritan women pay Hester to sew for them. Thus, one needs to be careful in criticizing the Puritans. Some of them – not all of them – were cruel to Hester. Others were very kind. One must be careful when criticizing a group of people. Even if most are cruel, some of the group may be kind. Similarly, one must be careful when praising a person or group. Even if Hester Prynne is a very good person, she has some huge faults.
Edgar Allen Poe...Edgar Allan Poe is a famous writer of Gothic, horror stories. These stories are characterized by haunted houses, dreary landscapes, and a main character with an illness that causes his senses to experience the world in a heightened manner. Because his main characters are usually insane, they are termed unreliable narrators whose analyses of the world and people cannot be fully trusted by the reader. For instance, in “The Black Cat,” the main character states that he loves animals and then kills a cat. Also, in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the main character claims that he is a kind person and then murders an old man. Poe also writes stories that are not from the viewpoint of a madman. For instance, he writes “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” from the point of view of a man walking with a man who behaves like a detective. This story, according to some critics, is the first detective story ever published. Also, in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Poe writes from the point-of-view of a man tortured during the Spanish Inquisition. In all likelihood, the man is not mad but is certainly in an extreme emotional state because of the torture he has endured. Further, in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe writes from the point-of-view of a man watching another man interact insanely with his sister. In this story, he famously anthropomorphizes the House of Usher. Finally, in “The Gold-Bug,” Poe writes a relatively light-hearted story that much resembles the detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in the way that one character unravels various clues. In addition to stories, Poe writes poetry. In “Annabel Lee,” he presents a man literally mad with love. As in “Annabel Lee,” “The Raven” presents a man who has lost his lover and is either mad or on the verge of madness. In addition, “The Bells” – famous for its onomatopoeia – records the joyous wedding of a couple and then the pain of the man who survives his wife’s death in a fire. His less famous poems still present distinctly Gothic elements. For instance, “The City in the Sea” presents a haunted landscape and a doomed city. On the other hand, “The Evening Star” is an exception and almost seems written by someone other than Poe. In this poem, he expresses his preference for the star’s internal fire rather than the moon’s cool, reflected light.
Vocabulary Skills
English Romantic Poetry...Romanticism began in the late 1700’s. In England, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote The Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poetry that proved to be the cornerstone of the Romantic movement. Soon after, a second generation of poets, such as John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, arrived on the scene. Like the first generation, these poets preferred exotic settings and the cult of poetic inspiration. The Romantic poets reacted to the Age of Reason with such force that some poets even pretended that all of their poems were inspired. Even though the English Romantic poets reacted against the former age, the poets did not throw out all former genres and traditions. For instance, the poets continued to write odes, a genre as old as the ancient Greeks and Romans. A famous example is Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” The poets’ views of nature widely differed and cannot be easily classified under any stereotype. Wordsworth presents a forsaken woman as reshaping nature in an extreme emotional state. Wordsworth’s contemporary, Coleridge presents the albatross as innocent and seemingly harmless in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” However, when the mariner kills the albatross, nature becomes vindictive and dooms the mariner to travel and retell his crime again and again. Romantic poetry does more than define nature in a variety of ways. Poets also wrote about timeless topics, such as love between a man and a woman, as in Shelley’s “Love’s Philosophy,” and the love of a woman for her baby, as in Wordworth’s “The Complaint of the Forsaken Indian Woman.” The Romantic poets in some ways were unlike any poets who preceded them and unlike any poets who came after them; but in other ways, they are like all men who experience love of family, fear of death, and various questions about nature.
Grammar and Usage Skills
Written and Oral Language Skills
Study Skills, Research and Reference Skills