Stigmatizing Mental Illness in We Have Always Lived in the Castle

This Summer I read We Have Always Lived in The Castle by Shirley Jackson. One of my favorite books, The Haunting of Hill House, was also written by Shirley Jackson, so I was thrilled when I discovered that this book was a summer reading option. I admire Jackson’s writing for her eerie and whimsical touch. This particular novel tells the story of two sisters, Constance and Merricat Blackwood. Besides their uncle Julian, the rest of their family is dead. Constance was, six years prior, accused of murdering the family. Therefore, Merricat and Constance are both feared and hated by the entire town and only go in twice a week for groceries, but even that is a trying task. 

The narrator, Merricat, is odd. She is ostracized from the town for seeming weird and detached, and even as the reader, her narrations at times do not seem to be based in reality. 

“I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both of my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita Phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead” (Jackson, 1). 

Jackson’s commentary on mental illness is reflected in Merricat. As Merricat is clearly still traumatized by the incident from six years ago, she carries the weight of that to this day. Her mental illness is stigmatized and not understood by those in the town. Instead, she is judged and horribly mistreated, “as close to me as he could come because, I knew, he wanted this morning to be bad luck for me” (Jackson, 12). Nobody in the town sympathizes with Merricat and as the reader, this is hard to understand. Throughout the novel, I found myself constantly sympathizing with Merricat and Constance because of their despairing past. Sadly, mental illness is still stigmatized today even though society as a whole is making active strives to do better by accepting one another for our differences.

One thought on “Stigmatizing Mental Illness in We Have Always Lived in the Castle

  1. Aaron Q.

    I also think it’s interesting how determined Merricat is to stay in her bubble of a house, and never allow her or Constance to leave. It’s not just the town she’s afraid of, it’s any unwarranted visitors and any temptation Constance may feel to leave the life that they have. If you think of this story as an allegory for mental illness, you could say it’s easy to find a home in such an isolated place, even when the size of that home is constantly shrieking (their house at the end consists of like two rooms).

    Liked by 1 person

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