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.

Acknowledge

After reading this story, I was thinking a lot about Benjamin and mutual recognition. You could argue that there is absolutely no mutual recognition demonstrated between the experimenters and the inmates. However, since the inmates ultimately have to say a consent word to allow the experiments to “drip on”, I argue that there is a small portion of mutual recognition. Nevertheless, the experimenters still see the inmates as objects to use in their lab. “On the other hand, Rachel may be stronger. She seems a little larger.” “She’s actually a little smaller,” Verlaine said. “Well maybe she’s tougher,” Absenti said.” Absenti was coming up with nonfactual excuses to manipulate Jeff into allowing the experiment to continue without his supposed uninfluenced consent.