Literature: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

A 1962 novel by Shirley Jackson, who is best known for her short story "The Lottery". We Have Always Lived In The Castle tells the story of the Blackwood family, the only three remainders of which are the narrator, eighteen year-old Merricat, her older sister Constance, and their crippled uncle Julian. The three of them live in isolation in an old manor and are the target of suspicion and hatred from the people of the nearby village.

Everything changes when, one day, their cousin shows up for a visit...

This novel contains the following tropes:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: Potentially justified, as Merricat likewise holds everyone (except for Constance) in contempt.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The ending of the novel can be this depending on your interpretation of the characters. Mary Katherine finally gets her wish to have her sister all to herself and remains in perfect isolation with Constance, whose initial desire to return to the world is implied to be forever extinguished.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Constance and, from a certain point of view, Uncle Charles.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Merricat.
  • Big Fancy House: The Blackwood house, although not so much after all but three rooms burn down at the end.
  • Black Comedy: The account of the death of Merricat's family.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Currently provides the page quote.
  • Children Are Innocent: Subverted, as No one suspects the then twelve year old Mary Katherine of having murdered her family.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: At the end of the novel, golden-haired, pink-cheeked Constance must forever wear her pink dress, while her changeling, forest-child sister Merricat is stuck wearing brown.
  • Curtain Clothing: Since all their spare clothes have been burned in the Blackwood house fire, Merricat resorts to wearing tablecloths.
  • Determinator: Mary Katherine is frantic, but utterly unrelenting in her efforts to banish her uncle Charles from the Blackwood estate.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Merricat murdered nearly her entire family as revenge for always being sent to bed without supper.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Constance in regards to Merricat's exploits.
  • Familiar: Merricat's cat, Jonas, has no supernatural powers but functions as one of these.
  • Food Porn: Food plays an important role in the novel, and whole paragraphs are dedicated to describing what the sisters eat.
  • Gold Digger: Charles. Quite literally, at one point.
  • Gothic Horror
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Constance, in spite of her other flaws, seems to be a genuinely good person.
  • Harp of Femininity: Constance has a literal one.
  • Hate at First Sight: Mary Katherine towards her uncle. From her perspective, he is an intruder who disturbs her world. It only gets worse with time.
  • Hates Baths: Mary Katherine admits this in the opening paragraph of the novel.
  • Implied Death Threat: Merricat starts describing poisonous plants whenever her uncle Charles eats. He doesn't react well to that.
  • Incest Subtext: Charles to Constance, although Constance doesn't seem to notice. However, Constance also seems to have a vague idea that Charles will take the place of her dead father. Freud would have a field day.
    • Merricat and Constance, big time. It's very possible that a central cause of Mary and Charles' conflict was that Charles was taking Mary's place in that respect.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The children of the town concocted one about the Blackwoods, and use it to taunt Merricat whenever they see her.
  • Let The Past Burn: In the climax of the novel, Blackwood House is destroyed.
  • Lovecraft Country: The novel takes place in a small, rural New England town.
  • Malicious Slander: Subverted.
  • Morality Chain: Constance appears to be this for Mary Katherine.
    Mary Katherine: I found a nest of baby snakes near the creek and killed them all; I dislike snakes and Constance had never asked me not to.
  • Perfect Poison: The sugar that the Blackwoods had sprinkled on their blackberries that night had been laced with arsenic. This also worked to pin Constance as the culprit, since Merricat knew her sister didn't like sugar.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: The villagers have been waiting for years for a chance to become this. They finally get it when they vandalize the remains of the Blackwood house.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Merricat is Type D.
  • Promotion to Parent: Constance. She doesn't seem to mind.
  • Rambling Old Man Monologue: Uncle Julian due to his brain damage. He at least has the benefit of being pretty funny, and occasionally drops backstory.
  • Sadist: Mary Katherine. She loves to imagine the painful death of people she hates and even describes killing an entire nest of baby snakes just because she dislikes the creatures.
  • Shrinking Violet: Constance has not left the Blackwood home since the death of the rest of the family six years ago. She spends her time caring for the wheelchair-bound Julian.
  • The Sociopath: Mary Katherine.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Mary Katherine and her sister Constance, respectively.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Murdering your family for sending you to bed without supper, at the age of twelve?. It doesn't get much more troubling and unchildlike than that.
  • The Unfavorite: Merricat considers herself this.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Mary Katherine makes several mentions of how she would love to see the village children die screaming... and she poisoned her young brother Thomas with arsenic when she was twelve.
  • Wrongly Accused: The people of the village think that Constance poisoned her family. She was actually tried for the crime and acquitted, yet the villagers remain suspicious. It was Merricat who did it.

Alternative Title(s):

We Have Always Lived In The Castle