13 We Have Always Lived in the Castle

castleMuch of We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Shirley Jackson, 1962) is spent wondering what the heck is going on. But this is a good thing. This is suspense done right.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is told from the first-person point of view of Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, an 18-year-old girl living with her sister Constance and Uncle Julian in an isolated home. When we meet Merricat, she’s on her way to do errands in the village, explaining how her village trips are like a game – if things go well, that’s one step forward; if not, that’s innumerable steps back. She is greeted with aloofness by the other village citizens, always subject to stares and whisperings and children singing songs about her as she passes by. There are a few who offer her tokens of kindness, but we learn immediately that all see something not quite right with Merricat and her family.

Now, the beauty of the story is that we don’t know for quite some time whether there truly is something amiss with the Blackwood family, or whether these are simply spiteful neighbors who are looking for someone on whom to center their hate. Every neighborhood has that family about whom stories are told and legends are born – whether it be because they’re immigrants or a minority religion or something tragic has befallen them or something else has categorized them as “other” – and the Blackwoods serve as this village’s fountain of gossip. Even as certain details are revealed and as we begin to piece together what may be behind all of the rumors, we’re never quite sure whether these claims or true or whether the Blackwoods are purposely feeding into the village’s prejudiced beliefs. Either option is frighteningly realistic.

If you’ve read Jackson’s seminal short story “The Lottery,” you know that she is an expert at exposing the dark side of the human condition, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle follows suit. Also mentioned in Jean’s post on books under 150 pages, I jumped at the recommendation to delve into more of Jackson’s work. Now I really want to make the effort to seek out even more.

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One thought on “13 We Have Always Lived in the Castle

  1. Pingback: 26 The Haunting of Hill House | The Thousand Project

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