Art Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a novel written by Shirley Jackson in 1962. It is told from the perspective of Mary Katherine (Merricat) Blackwood who lives with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian in an isolated house. Merricat goes to town to get groceries twice the week, but other than that, the family never leaves the house and hasn’t for years. Later through the book, a family member comes to the house without warning and their comfortable systematic life gets more chaotic.

I read the book over the summer and was caught off guard by how the story was told. This novel is filled with imagery and in a lot of ways its story is told through the strange and detailed setting, objects, and character movements. It doesn’t have that strong of a plot; you just kind of involve yourself in the story and it’s an uncomfortable experience. The writing is really cool, but the situation seems so wrong and unbreakable, especially since Merricat is fighting so hard to keep things how they are.

In a lot of ways Merricat is the antagonist of the story: she is the only thing keeping Constance back from leaving her life of isolation and doing something for herself. Their situation started when their family was poisoned, and when it’s revealed that Merricat is the killer, it’s not exactly surprising. She’s eighteen years old, but the way she thinks is similar to a young child.

And yet, Merricat is easy to sympathize with in her struggle to live life the way she wants to live it, even if she’s sleeping in the kitchen of a burnt down house for the rest of her life. It’s pretty clear that the way the sisters live is not the way life should be lived, but they seem to be happier than most people. And the life outside the house is painted as miserable and evil. The townspeople constantly cheer at the sisters:

Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?

Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.

Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?

Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!

Page 16, and throughout the book

My theory is that this story is a greatly exaggerated tale of a loner, most likely an artist, and how they are misguided in living a small, perhaps comfortable, but uneventful life leaving them untapped potential. Merricat is the artist and Constance is her art. Uncle Julian is her connection to the past, when she lived a somewhat normal life, so when he dies in the fire it’s the total loss of that connection.

I really enjoyed this novel and would highly recommend it.

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