We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Summary and Analysis of Chapter 9


An ambulance comes to take Uncle Julian’s body away while the sisters remain hidden. When Constance wakes up later, Merricat tells her they’re on the moon at last, and plans to neaten the house, even though it’s not the usual day for doing so. She also tells Constance that she didn’t have dinner last night, which seems to affect Constance more deeply than remembering the fire does. Merricat realizes that the rules she set will have to change—for example, she touches Uncle Julian’s shawl, which she has never done before.

Together, the sisters come out of Merricat’s hiding place and see the remnants of their house, realizing that the top of it is entirely gone. Much of the surviving house is a mess, with Constance’s beloved kitchen in disarray—chairs, plates, and glasses are smashed, and food is lying everywhere. The sisters thus witness the destruction of things made by generations of their family. Constance goes to the basement, where the preserves are safe, and makes Merricat breakfast. The sisters discuss Uncle Julian’s funeral, though neither plans to attend it.

In contrast to her earlier regret for remaining hidden in the house, Constance expresses the need to remain even more hidden now that she, Merricat, and Jonas are all that remain of their family and house. “We are going to lock ourselves in more securely than ever,” she tells Merricat, and plans to end the tradition of tea with Helen Clarke. Merricat explores the remnants of the house, which is similar to the kitchen in condition. Constance blames herself for the fire, and resolves to clean the kitchen.

Merricat closes the shutters to the house, further isolating herself and Constance. They find the safe has been preserved, though it was too heavy to carry out of the burning house. The sisters close the drawing room door for the final time, though their mother had been proud of the room. Since the top of the house has burned, they can see spots of the sky through the ceiling. “Our house was a castle, turreted and open to the sky,” Merricat observes, alluding to the novel’s title.

The sisters continue tidying the house, looking for things that have been preserved among the rubble, especially food, silverware, and dishes. Constance sweeps the rubble into the dining room and closes the door to the room, never to open it again.

Someone knocks on the front door, which is locked and bolted shut, and Constance and Merricat run to the cellar to hide. It’s Helen Clarke, who calls out for the sisters. The top half of the door is glass, so she can see into the house, but can’t see the sisters in the basement. Helen Clarke calls out that the events of last night were a misunderstanding and offers to let the sisters stay at her house temporarily. Though she begs for Constance to answer the door, the sisters ignore her, annoyed at her persistence.

Merricat and Constance plan for the new life ahead of them and find a mattress to sleep on. Merricat nails cardboard across the glass part of the door and the windows that aren’t covered by shutters. Constance tells Merricat that she should sleep in Uncle Julian’s room, but Merricat says she isn’t allowed in Uncle Julian’s room. Constance is surprised, asking if that’s the case even though Uncle Julian has died.

Again, neighbors appear to try to convince the sisters to come out of the house. Jim Clarke says that he and Helen want them to come to their house, while Dr. Levy asks if they’re hurt. Merricat feels empowered by their frustration, knowing that she’s secured the house well. Dr. Levy tells them that Uncle Julian’s funeral is tomorrow and says that many of the neighbors, who he calls the sisters’ “friends,” have sent flowers. They ask the sisters to simply confirm that they’re safe, but Merricat and Constance are silent.

Constance apologizes to Merricat for her “wicked” behavior last night, saying that she shouldn’t have reminded Merricat of why their family died and that she wants Merricat to forget about the whole matter. Merricat confirms that she poisoned the sugar because Constance never used sugar; Constance says they’ll never speak of it again. The sisters tell each other that they love each other.


The fact that Constance’s concern for Merricat missing dinner overrides her concern about the fire again underlines how important food and care are to the sisters as symbols of their female, metaphorically maternal power. Similarly, the kitchen is the heart of the home for the sisters. The fact that the villagers nearly destroy it represents a scary intrusion of their power on Merricat’s world, but the fact that the kitchen survives the fire is a victory for Merricat, since the damage is able to be mitigated. That the preserves have survived indicates the continued strength and power of the Blackwood female line. Similarly, the survival of the sisters’ mother’s Dresden figurines underscores the same theme—they’re one of the few things the reader knows about Merricat and Constance’s mother.

Paradoxically, the chapter displays both the depth of the sisters’ love for each other and the strange superficiality of their care for Uncle Julian, who they grieve only briefly despite having lived with him for years. Merricat’s feelings for Uncle Julian remain somewhat unresolved by the end of the book; she poisoned him along with the others, after all, and there’s no evidence that she intended for him to survive like Constance, but she doesn’t seem to feel any ill will towards him.

For the first time, it is explicit that Merricat is the creator of the rules that have followed her throughout the book as she refuses to touch Uncle Julian’s things even in his death. These rules are also exposed as clearly irrational—after all, there’s no reason for Merricat not to touch his things now. The rules seem to be beyond Merricat’s control in a way, even though she makes them, since while she didn’t loathe Uncle Julian, she doesn’t mourn him much otherwise either.

Constance’s level of acceptance of the fact that her sister killed their family is chilling—she’s the one who feels guilty for bringing up the matter. Of course, Merricat could never forget what she did, but Constance’s hope that she does suggests that she thinks Merricat does feel guilt about the events of the past, whether or not this is true.