We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Study Guide

Published in 1962, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Shirley Jackson’s final novel before her death in 1965. Told from the perspective of 18-year-old Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, it focuses on the lives of Merricat, her older sister Constance, and her uncle Julian in the wake of the tragic murders of the rest of their family. Though Constance was tried for the murders and is popularly believed to have committed them, she was acquitted; the end of the novel reveals that Merricat, then 12 years old, was the true murderer.

The novel examines the nuclear family in America from a gendered perspective, contrasting the female power of the Blackwood sisters with the male authority of their father and cousin Charles. Relegated to the realm of the household, the Blackwood sisters reclaim this sphere as a means of empowerment, particularly through food. The power men wielded over women in the 1960s was a deeply personal issue for Jackson: even though she was the primary breadwinner of her family, her husband controlled the money she earned.

Though not as famous as Jackson’s short story “The Lottery,” her most well-known work, We Have Always Lived in the Castle has become a cult classic in the more than 50 years since its release. Jackson drew upon her own experiences of isolation and anti-Semitism from others in writing the novel, and in the wake of its publication, she suffered from agoraphobia of her own. A film adaptation of the book was released in 2018.