A modern feminist retelling of the witch hunts of the Puritan times, this poem by Margaret Atwood is a great choice for teaching poetic elements as well as for exploring some of the major themes of American Literature.
“Half-Hanged Mary” is based on the true story of Mary Webster who was probably one of Margaret Atwood’s ancestors. This poem is long and challenging for sure, but it is also a fascinating tale of a real-life phenomena. While students might need a few class periods to fully read and analyze the entire piece, that time will be well spent on a fascinating and unique poem.
The text of the poem is not included for copyright reasons.
This poem is a great addition to a unit on The Crucible by Arthur Miller. It would also work well in any unit on early American Literature or feminist literature such as The Handmaid’s Tale, poetry by Anne Bradstreet, work of Cotton Mather or Jonathan Edwards, Jane Eyre, The Yellow Wallpaper, The Bell Jar, The Awakening, or The Woman Warrior.
All of the answer keys quote the important passages, so there is no guessing on the part of the teacher as to which parts of the text are most important. When you discuss the questions with your classes, you can point them to the sections to make sure that they are engaging with the text and working to interpret the sometimes challenging language.
There are no lectures or power points here—students will do the work themselves, with guidance from their teacher. Rather than telling them what the poem means, you will be empowering them with the confidence and skills to tackle a challenging poem on their own
—How does physical pain or suffering alter people?
—What are the expectations put on women in society?
—Why do people persevere in the face of impossible odds?
—How does the natural world respond to the suffering of the individual?
—What roll does God play in the daily life of the individual?
—What roll do choice or free will play in the lives of individuals?
Included in this resource:
—suggestions for how to approach this challenging poem
—14 writing prompts to get students thinking about the ideas of the poem
—three suggestions for assessment or extension
—41 questions for close reading and analysis
—an extensive answer key and teacher explanations
—enough for a few days of reading, thinking, writing, and discussion
Everything here is ready to go with minimal prep on your part.