We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5


In the morning, Merricat returns to the house. Constance tells her that Uncle Julian is doing better. Merricat then checks on Uncle Julian, who calls her Constance by accident. Afterwards, Constance tells Merricat that their cousin Charles is still asleep, and Merricat panics again, insisting that Charles was a ghost or a dream and demanding that Constance believe her. She smashes her glass on the floor to try to make Charles leave. Constance explains that Charles’s father, their uncle Arthur Blackwood, disliked their branch of the family. Arthur died, however, and Charles came in an attempt to help them. Merricat questions how Charles could help them, but is relieved that he isn’t there to stay permanently.

Meanwhile, Uncle Julian is eager to talk to Charles about the poisoning, asking about the behavior of his branch of the family. Both Merricat (in her narration) and Uncle Julian note that Charles closely resembles Merricat and Constance’s father.

The novel reveals that Charles is 32, four years older than 28-year-old Constance, which makes Constance a full decade older than Merricat.

Though he is well aware that Constance is believed to be a murderer, Charles insists that he isn’t afraid to eat anything she cooks. Once he begins eating, however, he appears nervous. Though Uncle Julian is eager to learn about Charles’s family’s side of the trial, Charles is reluctant to talk about it, saying that “there’s no point in keeping those memories alive” (95). Uncle Julian is offended by this attitude, and again begins to question whether the poisoning really happened.

Irritating Merricat, Charles talks about her in the third person to Jonas, the cat, asking how he can make her like him. Merricat is determined to neaten the house, as she and Constance typically do on Mondays. As they begin to clean, Merricat thinks to herself that Charles has only come because the magic had faded, believing that reviving it would force Charles to leave.

Eating lunch in a tree with Jonas, Merricat tells the cat not to listen to Charles anymore. She hopes to drive Charles away, but isn’t sure what type of magic to use to do so, and vows to smash the mirror in the hall if Charles isn’t gone within three days.

At dinner, Uncle Julian again tries to bring up the day of the poisoning, but Charles refuses to talk about it. Charles also volunteers to go into the village to do errands, taking Merricat’s job away from her. In response, Merricat recites information about the deadly Amanita phalloides mushroom, angering Charles but making Constance laugh.


Charles’s resemblance to Merricat and Constance’s father underscores the manner in which his arrival represents the return of male authority to the Blackwood home. Though little information is revealed about the sisters’ parents over the course of the novel, their father seems to have had a stronger presence in their household than their mother—Merricat repeatedly refers to the room that her parents presumably shared as her father’s room, and it’s his brother, Julian, who lives with the sisters’ immediate family. The villagers are also split starkely on gendered lines. Both adult men and young boys harass Merricat at the start of the novel, while women such as Stella, the owner of the cafe from the first chapter, and Helen Clarke, are comparatively kind to Merricat and Constance. While Uncle Julian is a man and the oldest member of the family, his disability leaves Constance in the role of the head of the household, an especially unusual role for a woman of the 1960s (the novel was written in 1962.) Charles’s attempt to take control of the Blackwood house—and, crucially, the money (a form of power women had little access to at the time)—thus represents the return of male authority to the Blackwood sister’s sanctuary of female power.

Notably, Charles calls Merricat “Mary,” which no other character has called her. He’s surprised at what he perceives as Merricat’s shyness, stating that “kids always take to me.” At eighteen, Merricat is older than what most would consider a kid, suggesting that she perhaps looks younger than she says she is in addition to often behaving like a younger child.

Though Charles will become increasingly concerned with the Blackwood money, he doesn’t seem to have completely self-serving motives in coming to the Blackwood house. He genuinely encourages Constance to return to the world, and seems to care for her on some level. To Merricat, who wants to keep Constance for herself, however, he can only be a villain.

Meanwhile, Uncle Julian’s mission to find the facts of the night of the poisoning begins to seem less solid—he admits to lying, albeit in a very minor way, by calling his wife beautiful. This lie further calls into question how reliable Uncle Julian’s account of both the poisoning and of the family dynamic is.