We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3


Merricat believes that change is coming. When she wakes up, she thinks for a moment that she hears her family calling her, before remembering that they’re dead. Again, Merricat engages in magical thinking, checking her “safeguards,” such as a book nailed to a tree and various objects buried. She says she’s been burying things since she was a kid, believing that it would cause certain things to happen, such as the grass growing taller. Constance supports this unconventional system, giving Merricat pretty things to bury. Merricat also notes that she isn’t allowed in Uncle Julian’s room. Merricat then helps Constance in the garden, mentioning that their cellar is full of jars of food canned by generations of Blackwood women, a practice Constance takes pride in continuing.

Uncle Julian eats in the kitchen on good days, where he studies his papers and insists that upon his death (which he seems to accept serenely), someone must write his book in his place. Again, the novel indicates that Uncle Julian’s mind is scrambled—he confuses Constance with his deceased wife Dorothy and asks if her father is home yet. Meanwhile, Merricat chooses three “powerful words” and decides that as long as they are not spoken aloud, no change will come. They are "melody," "Gloucester," and "Pegasus."

A doctor, Dr. Levy, comes to check on Uncle Julian briefly. Then Uncle Julian reminisces about his family’s last day of life, recalling what each family member did in the morning. He references tension in the house before the deaths, saying he thinks the sisters’ father wanted him and his wife to contribute more to the family. The chapter ends with Merricat asking if Constance will take care of her when she’s old, as she takes care of Uncle Julian, “If I’m still around,” Constance replies, which makes Merricat feel “chilled," underscoring her dependence on her sister.


Merricat still thinking her family is alive (if only briefly) six years after their deaths suggests that these deaths haunt her more than she usually acknowledges. Though she rarely mentions her dead family members in her narration, she may not be fully comfortable with her life without them. Her practice of dressing in her family’s clothes weekly also indicates that she remains closer to their memories than she acknowledges, though this action can also be interpreted more sinisterly, as Merricat taking on their roles in the family for herself.

The shelf of preserved food from generations of Blackwood women indicates the strength and power of the Blackwood maternal line, particularly as it connects to food. Food is a source of power for both Constance and Merricat as well—Constance takes on her role as the head of the household by cooking, and Merricat (as will later be confirmed) uses sugar to poison her family. Female power emerges as an important theme in the novel as it progresses.

Again, Uncle Julian is shown to be obsessed with “that last day,” stating that “I would hate to lose any small thing from their last day; my book must be complete.” Yet the reader’s dependence on Uncle Julian for facts about the “last day” makes this information unreliable, since Uncle Julian has problems with his memory and sometimes even doubts whether the poisoning actually happened. The fact that Constance and Merricat rarely dispute his account may mean that it’s correct, but it might also indicate that they’re simply too tired of the story to correct him.