We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The moon (symbol)

When she envisions her ideal, fantasy life, Merricat often talks about living on the moon. Reflecting her childish nature, she daydreams of flying to the moon on a winged horse to escape parts of her life that frighten or anger her, such as her interactions with the villagers. Merricat’s visions of life on the moon reflect the importance of her remaining family to her. She often wishes to fly Constance to the moon to make her happier, and repeatedly says that Uncle Julian would be healthy on the moon. Her fantasies also reinforce her love for her house and garden, as she envisions building a similar home on the moon. At the end of the novel, when she and Constance have fully cut themselves off from the outside world, Merricat says they are finally living on the moon, highlighting the importance of the isolation she imagines on the moon to her fantasy.

Food (symbol)

Food is heavily linked to female power in the novel. Historically, women have often been relegated to the world of the kitchen and food preparation, but both Merricat and Constance use this traditional role as a means of acquiring power, Constance by running the household around the meals she prepares and Merricat by poisoning her family’s sugar. The associated between food and the Blackwood sisters’ deadly power is so strong that it inspires the sinister nursery rhyme the villagers sing to the sisters, and even the sisters’ supposed friends, such as Helen Clarke, hesitate to eat the food they prepare. In contrast, the fact that Constance and Merricat are so often seen sharing meals reflects their love and trust for each other, since Constance knows what Merricat is capable of. (Even Constance, as sweet as she seems, has the power to poison—Merricat mentions learning about poisonous mushrooms from her as a child.) Food also connects the sisters to their family’s maternal lineage through the preserves created by generations of Blackwood women that they keep in the basement. After the destruction of much of the sisters’ home, the preserves allow them to regain their strength and power.

Money and the safe (symbols)

If food represents female power, money and the safe embody the masculine authority that the Blackwood sisters rebel against. Their father is implied to have been rather stingy with money, despite the family’s clear wealth, since Uncle Julian repeatedly mentions feeling that his brother felt he and his wife were a financial burden. As a result, the sisters have more than enough money to care for their needs, though they pay little attention to money. Reflecting her magic or witchcraft, Merricat buries money throughout the yard of the sisters’ property for protection, which angers Charles, who is deeply concerned with the financial value of the money, just as his uncle, the girls’ father, was. The safe and the money it contains thus represent the male lineage of the Blackwood family and the social status and wealth that accompany it. It can also be seen as a symbol of the broader relationship between patriarchy and capitalism in America, particularly the America of the 1960s in which the novel was written. The sisters never rid themselves of the safe, but they simply ignore it—their power is such that it is irrelevant to them.

The poisoned sugar (symbol)

Like food as a whole, the sugar that kills Merricat’s family is heavily linked to female power, as it’s the means through which Merricat asserts her control over the rest of the family. Sugar, along with other sweet things, is sometimes associated with little girls—think of the nursery rhyme that says they are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Like the poisoned sugar, then-12-year-old Merricat may have seemed sweet on the outside, but was secretly deadly.

The Blackwood house and property (symbol)

Perhaps the most obvious symbol in the novel is the Blackwood house itself. Large, imposing, and cut off from the rest of the town, it reflects the wealth of the family, as well as their isolation. The house and its surrounding yard are sources of magical power for Merricat, who buries and hides small treasures throughout the landscape and smashes pieces of furniture inside the house, both as forms of protection. Early in the novel, Merricat sees the beauty of the Blackwood house in comparison to the rest of the village as a sign it has been captured “as punishment for the Rochesters and the Blackwoods and their secret bad hearts,” linking the house to the novel’s themes of punishment and guilt as well. The house is also directly linked to Merricat’s psyche—at the end of the novel, the barricaded and half-destroyed house is a symbol of the isolation and self-inflicted madness Merricat has happily condemned herself to. We Have Always Lived in the Castle can be interpreted as the origin story of a haunted house and the myths surrounding it—by the end of the novel, it’s impossible to see inside the house, and the villagers’ imaginations have run wild with rumors about the sinister power of the witch-like Blackwood sisters.