We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2


The beginning of Chapter Two clarifies that the isolation of the Blackwoods began before Merricat’s family died—her father had put up a sign saying “private, no trespassing” and closed off the path to their house. The second chapter also elaborates on Merricat’s adoration for her sister Constance, who she recalls thinking was a “fairy princess” as a child and still considers her favorite person in the world.

Constance first appears in the chapter, and her personality is starkly different from Merricat’s, though they share the same fear of the outside world. While Merricat is childish and morbid, Constance has a friendly, almost sunny disposition, especially towards her sister, and manages the household, showing her maturity (though it’s not immediately clear exactly how old she is.) Constance jokes about accompanying Merricat into the village, which frightens Merricat, though she laughs along. While Constance unpacks the groceries, Merricat notes that she isn’t allowed to help, prepare food, or gather mushrooms.

Uncle Julian also appears for the first time in the second chapter. He discusses what he refers to as “that last night” in a casual manner, mentioning that Merricat and Constance’s parents fought that night, despite usually getting along. In response, Constance expresses missing her family.

Two neighbors, Helen Clarke and Mrs. Wright, come to visit Merricat and Constance. Merricat is instantly protective of her sister, who is nervous around company, especially since Helen Clarke usually comes alone. Merricat clearly dislikes Helen Clarke, and even Constance, who is far more polite, is deeply uncomfortable when Helen refers to her as “one of my closest friends.” Helen Clarke encourages Constance to leave the house, which sets off Merricat’s superstitions—she panics when the matter of Constance leaving the family’s estate is brought up for a third time because “three times makes it real,” and smashes her mother’s milk pitcher to calm herself down.

The second chapter also contains a major revelation: Constance was acquitted of murder, presumably of her family, as Helen Clarke and Mrs. Wright know. Helen Clarke, who is concerned with being proper, is appalled when this matter is openly discussed, but Uncle Julian recalls out loud the night the family’s sugar was poisoned with arsenic. He reveals that Constance had no sugar the night of the poisoning, but that she never liked sugar much to begin with. In fact, Uncle Julian is fascinated by the mystery of who poisoned the Blackwoods, collecting newspaper clippings and notes about the events of the day. Uncle Julian also reveals that the Blackwoods were a fairly typical family, arguing occasionally but not excessively. Additionally, he reveals that his disability, which keeps him in a wheelchair, resulted from the events of that night. Uncle Julian also explains that in addition to Merricat and Constance’s parents, the family included their ten-year-old brother, Thomas, and his wife, Dorothy. He also reveals that then-twelve-year-old Merricat wasn’t at dinner the night of the poisoning, having been sent to bed without dinner.

Uncle Julian seems to think that Constance poisoned her family, in spite of his friendliness towards her, but he points out that the Blackwoods’ garden provided far more accessible poisons than arsenic, begging the question of why Constance would use that to poison her family. He also mentions that Constance washed the sugar bowl immediately after dinner, which aroused suspicion, but Constance claims there was a spider in it. Constance claims she bought the arsenic to kill rats.

For her part, Helen Clarke claims that Constance told the police that “those people deserved to die,” and blamed herself for the poisonings.


Like Merricat and Constance, Uncle Julian doesn’t seem to grieve his deceased family members, including his wife, much (though, to be fair, six years have passed since their deaths.) He talks about their deaths with ease—in fact, their deaths are almost all he talks about. “I am a survivor of the most sensational poisoning case of the century,” he proclaims. He also shows signs of mental instability, perhaps a result of the poisoning, briefly questioning whether the poisoning “really happen[ed.]”

Merricat’s comment that she isn’t allowed to help prepare food would logically lead one to infer that Constance forbids her from doing so, which would be strange given Merricat’s age. Even stranger is the reality that becomes clear over the novel—Merricat forbids herself from doing so, adhering strictly to the rules she creates for herself. (Another example is her refusal to touch Uncle Julian’s things, which is relevant at the end of the novel.) Merricat also isn’t allowed to pour tea for the sisters’ guests. It’s unclear why exactly Merricat has created these rules for herself, since she otherwise seems to feel little remorse for poisoning her family. Perhaps she simply knows that killing again would draw too much attention to her family, or maybe she does feel more guilty than she lets on.

As it appears early in the novel, it’s easy to miss how unusual Constance’s statement that “sometimes I feel I would give anything to have them all back again” is. As the novel progresses, Constance shows an intense aversion to making Merricat feel uncomfortable, and as the end of the book reveals, she is fully aware that Merricat killed their family. The remark indicates that Constance’s feelings about her family’s deaths are more complex than they first appear. On one hand, her immediate response was to protect Merricat by washing the sugar bowl and blaming herself, and she doesn’t seem to resent Merricat in the slightest for killing their family. Yet in the moment, Constance shows genuine care for her lost family members, perhaps the only moment that either sister exhibits this feeling throughout the novel.

Helen Clarke contends that Merricat’s conviction that the villagers hate her family is “nine-tenths…nothing but your imagination,” a result of Merricat’s own unfriendliness towards the villagers. This remark calls into question the reliability of Merricat’s narration and her perspective on the events of the past six years—perhaps the villagers dislike the Blackwoods not because of the infamous poisoning, but because of their hostile, self-isolating response to it.