We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4


Merricat wakes up on Sunday still thinking about change. She tries not to think about her three “magic words,” melody, Gloucester, and Pegasus. Constance recalls that Uncle Julian thought she was his wife again. Though it looks like a storm is near, Merricat goes outside with her cat, Jonas. The reader gets a little more information about where the Blackwoods live, though the house's exact location is never revealed: Merricat says she’s never seen an ocean. As she walks, she thinks of her buried treasure, such as a doll, and checks to be sure that it’s all safe. She climbs into a hiding place between several bushes, though she notes that no one even tries to find her there. She then says that she listens to Jonas telling her stories.

Later, Merricat finds a nest of baby snakes and casually kills them, explaining “I dislike snakes and Constance had never asked me not to.” On her way back to the house, she comes across a bad omen—the book she nailed to a tree had fallen off, making it lose its powers of protection.

When she returns to Constance, Constance asks Merricat if she ever wants to leave their house. Merricat says she doesn’t, claiming that “the world is full of terrible people,” but the agoraphobic Constance replies that “I wonder sometimes.”

On her way to get a sweater for Constance, Merricat sees a man outside the door and panics. She leans against the door, trying to hide from the man, who calls out for Constance. Merricat remembers that people used to come often to try to look at Constance or take something from the yard as a souvenir, but they don’t come as often anymore. She says that while people ask for Constance and Uncle Julian, they don’t ask for her, since she hadn’t been at the poisoned dinner or the courtroom. Instead, she recalls, “I had been lying on the cot at the orphanage, staring at the ceiling, wishing they were all dead, waiting for Constance to come and take me home.”

Merricat runs back to Constance to give her the sweater, and finds the man who was knocking at the door sitting with Constance. Constance explains that he’s their cousin Charles Blackwood. Merricat panics again and runs away to the creek, lying with Jonas there until the morning. She blames the book falling off the tree for the dissolution of her safe haven.


Perhaps more than any other chapter, Chapter 4 shows the extent of Merricat’s superstitions. Though these superstitions came across as relatively harmless, even childish, earlier in the novel, they take on a darker tone in this chapter as the extent of Merricat’s paranoia about the outside world becomes clear. Merricat’s belief that Jonas the cat tells her stories is particularly outlandish and detached from reality, and her killing of the baby snakes is also disturbing. Combined with her childish nature, this action provokes images of Hollywood serial killers spending their childhoods tormenting animals. The casual tone with which she recalls the killing makes it all the more concerning.

Though the novel does not yet make it explicit that Merricat is the true killer of her family, a clever-enough reader has likely begun to at least suspect her by now, or perhaps even earlier—after all, the dark, death-obsessed Merricat seems a more likely murderer than the chirpy Constance. Merricat’s recollection of her lack of remorse in the wake of the murders is striking—presumably not told that her family had died, she simply continued to wish for their deaths, caring only for Constance. She also doesn’t seem to have worried about being discovered to be the killer, perhaps taking for granted that Constance would protect her. Though her love for Constance generally seems genuine, this assumption reveals a manipulative streak in Merricat—not to mention that, despite her professed love for Constance, she let her take the blame for the murders.

The brief exchange between Merricat and Constance regarding the outside world illustrates the key differences between the sisters’ worldviews. Merricat demonstrates very black-and-white thinking—with the exception of Constance, who she loves, and Uncle Julian, who she tolerates, other people are to be feared, ridiculed, and hated because they’re fundamentally “terrible.” Constance, however, seems to have much more faith in humanity, considering her earlier willingness to consider Helen Clarke’s advice on returning to the world, as well as the welcoming she shows Charles. One of the questions of the book moving forward is whether or not Merricat will succeed in converting Constance to her pessimistic worldview.