“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both 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.”
The masterful first paragraph of We Have Always Lived in the Castle introduces the reader to Merricat by showing what she values. Her age, 18, is significant since she oftens acts younger, and is also sometimes treated as younger by Constance and Charles. Her childish nature is underlined by her simple statements and dislike for “washing myself,” as well as the chilling nonchalance with which she speaks of the death of her family. Merricat’s affection for the creepy werewolf and poisonous mushrooms, along with Richard Plantagenet (a rumored poisoner himself) is an early hint that she is the killer, not Constance.
“I wished they were dead… I was never sorry when I had thoughts like this; I only wished they would come true.”
Appearing early in the novel, this line is an introduction to Merricat’s dark interior monologue and the frequent death wishes she places on others. Her elaborate fantasy of seeing all the townspeople in the store dead, even the children, foreshadows the revelation that she, not Constance, killed her family—including her 10-year-old brother. Merricat’s statement that she never regrets such thoughts can also be linked to her lack of remorse over the killings, though it also indicates that she understands on some level that these thoughts are wrong, indicating that she perhaps isn’t as confident in her mentality and past actions as she presents herself as being.
“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!”
The recurrent nursery rhyme that the villagers chant embodies the sinister girlhood behind the murders—though in reality Merricat, not Constance, is the guilty one. Merricat was only 12 when she killed her family, and is outwardly innocent (and, even at 18, childish) enough that she has successfully fooled the world into thinking she was innocent. The simultaneously childish and sinister nursery rhyme parallels Merricat’s nature.
“Sometimes I feel I would give anything to have them all back again.”
This statement from Constance is highly unusual, since she never again outwardly expresses missing her family—even Merricat, the true murderer, seems to think of her deceased family more often than Constance does. Yet the statement indicates that Merricat and Constance’s relationship perhaps hasn’t always been as ideal as it seems, since Constance does miss her family. The fact that, at least by the time of the events of the novel, she seems to hold no resentment towards Merricat for killing their family, and even apologizes for reminding Merricat of her past actions, is a powerful window into Constance’s psychology.
“She told the police those people deserved to die… She told the police that it was all her fault.”
This statement by Helen Clarke reveals Constance’s immediate response to the deaths of her family. Rather than mourning her family members, Constance immediately blamed herself (as she later does for the fire at the end of the novel.) (Uncle Julian suggests that Constance blamed herself because she thought her cooking had killed them, but her cleaning of the sugar bowl suggests otherwise, and the fact that she again blames herself for the fire indicates that this tendency is a sort of compulsion in Constance’s character.) Equally revealing is the fact that Constance said her family deserved to die, since she doesn’t seem to hold much resentment towards them otherwise (though she doesn’t mourn them much, either.) Constance perhaps said so to make herself the obvious murder suspect and take the fall for Merricat. Either way, the statement that her family deserved to die conplicates Constance’s seemingly kind, idealistic personality.
“‘Don’t you ever want to leave here, Merricat?’
‘Where could we go?’ I asked her. ‘What place would be better for us than this? Who wants us, outside? The world is full of terrible people.’
‘I wonder sometimes.’”
This exchange illustrates the differences in views of humanity and the outside world between Merricat and Constance. While Merricat embraces her solitude and isolation in the house and thinks pessimistically of the outside world, Constance regrets feeling compelled to remain in the house and considers leaving, believing she may be missing out on the outside world. This ideological conflict between the two sisters is the major source of suspense in the novel as the reader wonders whether or not Constance will remain isolated with Merricat.
“On the moon, Uncle Julian would be well and the sun would shine every day.”
This line is one of many of Merricat’s fantasies about the moon, where she imagines an idealized and isolated life. That her fantasy includes Uncle Julian being well is notable because she, after all, is the cause of his ill health—his physical and mental disabilities are the result of surviving the poisoning. Thus, the line suggests that Merricat may regret harming Uncle Julian, though she never outright expresses guilt for killing her family.
“I sat between Constance and Uncle Julian, in my rightful, my own and proper, place at the table...
‘Mary Katherine should have anything she wants, my dear. Our most loved daughter must have anything she likes…
…‘You must never be punished. Lucy, you are to see to it that our most loved daughter Mary Katherine is never punished.’
'Mary Katherine would never allow herself to do anything wrong; there is never any need to punish her.’
‘I have heard, Lucy, of disobedient children being sent to their beds without dinner as a punishment. This must not be permitted with our Mary Katherine.’”
Through her fantasy of her family’s adoring behavior towards her, Merricat indicates the true reality of how they truly behaved towards her. This passage reveals the reason why Merricat killed her family: they punished her by sending her to bed without dinner. This reasoning is chillingly mundane, particularly because Merricat never reveals why she was punished in the first place, so the punishment may have been completely appropriate. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Merricat resented being punished so much that, along with being driven to murder, she still seems almost traumatized by the events years later. The statement that Merricat would never “allow herself” to do something wrong is especially revealing, indicating a possible motivation behind the rules that Merricat creates for herself.
"‘I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die.’
Constance stirred, and the leaves rustled. ‘The way you did before?’ she asked.
It had never been spoken of between us, not once in six years.
‘Yes,’ I said after a minute, ‘the way I did before.’”
This exchange is the only time in the novel in which the sisters discuss the mutual knowledge that Merricat killed her family, and is the explicit confirmation of what the reader has likely already guessed. The fact that the sisters have never felt the need to discuss the poisoning before shows how much they love and care for each other. After all, despite missing her family, Constance has never asked Merricat to explain why she killed them, and it is she, not Merricat, who apologizes for even bringing the matter up later. The exchange thus indicates Constance’s disturbingly serene acceptance of all of her sister’s actions.
“‘Oh, Constance,’ I said, ‘we are so happy.’”
This statement, the final line of the novel, is chilling. Merricat has succeeded in convincing Constance to abandon the outside world, and the two sisters truly feel happy in their isolated home. In some ways, the sisters are more feared and hated by the villagers than ever before—though they bring the sisters food, this is partially because they fear their families being hurt otherwise, and there are rumors that the Blackwoods eat children. Yet while the sisters previously hid from the villagers in fear, they now laugh as they do so, delighting in being the cause of so much fear and mystique.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.