(Masterpieces of American Literature)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle was Jackson’s only novel written in the first-person voice. She uses this viewpoint to introduce one of the most charming psychopaths in literature. Mary Catherine (Merricat) Blackwood tells the reader important things about herself in the first few sentences: She is eighteen years old, she lives with her sister, she dislikes washing herself, but likes her sister Constance. She then states bluntly, “Everyone else in my family is dead.”

Merricat and her sister, Constance, live with their invalid Uncle Julian on the fine old Blackwood estate. The property is completely enclosed, padlocked and isolated. Twice a week, Merricat goes into the village to get groceries and library books. Twice a week, she endures jibes and unfriendly glances as she performs her errands. It becomes clear that the Blackwoods and the villagers despise each other.

Throughout the book, Jackson portrays Mary Catherine as a sympathetic character—with a few bizarre traits. Merricat is incredibly rigid. She schedules every activity, determined to maintain the status quo. She fantasizes about being on the Moon, far from Earth, in a sterile, changeless place. To ensure that her home and life stay intact, she places magical “safeguards” around the property and checks them weekly as she walks the grounds with her cat, Jonah. Her life is perfectly foursquare, measured and determined; one routine follows another, day after day.

Constance, Merricat’s older sister, appears perfectly normal, except for the fact that she is a complete recluse who never leaves the house. As the story unfolds, the reader learns that the Blackwood house was the site of a massacre...

(The entire section is 700 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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Friedman, Lenemaja. Shirley Jackson. Boston: Twayne, 1975.

Hall, Joan Wylie. Shirley Jackson: A Study of Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993.

Hattenhauer, Darryl. Shirley Jackson’s American Gothic. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

Jefferson, Margo. “Shirley Jackson, Novelist or Witch?” Vogue 178, no. 7 (July, 1988): 70.

Kittredge, Mary. “The Other Side of Magic: A Few Remarks About Shirley Jackson.” In Discovering Modern Horror Fiction, edited by Darrell Schweitzer. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, 1985.

Oppenheimer, Judy. Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1988.