“On the moon we wore feathers in our hair, and rubies on our hands. On the moon we had gold spoons.”
― Shirley Jackson,
‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ is a haunting look at mental illness, and how it can be perceived by a small minded society. That is this book in one sentence, but one sentence cannot contain the actual amazement Jackson portrays of Merricat’s tale.
Merricat, or Mary Katherine, her sister Constance, and her uncle, Julian, are the last remaining members of the Blackwood family. The rest of the family died years before when the sugar bowl had been filled with arsenic at a family party. Merricat and Constance were untouched by the poison that left Uncle Julian in a wheelchair; he had very little sugar that night.
Since Constance’s acquittal of the murder, the three remaining Blackwoods mainly stay hidden away from the abusive, intrusive, cruel citizens of the small town outside their estate. Merricat only ventures to the town to get whatever groceries they need once or twice a week. While there the town mocks and chants horrible things as she passes. What is going on outside of Merricat is something the reader feels unjust about, but what is going on inside her is the interesting part…..
Merricat seems to suffer from a ton of mental illnesses from anxiety to delusions. The physical agony her body goes through when passing the openly aggressive men and children in the town to the pure belief that certain objects that are placed correctly will keep the estate safe from harm; this girl in a state of torture and bliss at the same time. She isn’t the only one, either. Constance is unable to leave the house, and ignores the fact that Merricat is almost an adult who acts like a deeply disturbed eight year old. Uncle Julian’s mind wonders, but we can chalk that up to the arsenic poisoning. They are completely fine living in the mansion alone, all the while pretending as if their world is nothing but moon adventures and chores.
Once the arrival of cousin Charles disrupts Merricat’s happy home, she will stop at nothing to expel him. What makes it worse is that Charles has a hold on Constance, and, as the reader can see, finally gets her to see logic.
But if someone is desperate enough to poison the sugar bowl to get rid of a whole family, one person doesn’t stand a chance….or does he? You will have to read to see the outcome, and decide for yourself if it was tragic or relieving. ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ is all about perception.