We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Merricat is the only one who can tell that a change is coming, though Constance might suspect it. Merricat watches Constance looking often down the driveway. The day after Helen Clarke’s visit, Uncle Julian stays in bed, and Jonas is restless, often running all over the house. That morning Merricat thinks her family is calling her as she wakes up.
Jonas’s restlessness echoes Constance’s. If Merricat still imagines her family calling to her, she probably does feel guiltier about their deaths than she usually lets on. This passage suggests that the family haunts the house in certain ways, if not literally.
Themes
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
When Merricat doesn’t have to go into the village, she does her work. On Wednesday mornings she checks the length of the fence to make sure it’s secure. On Sunday mornings she checks her safeguards, which are items, such as silver dollars and dolls, that she’s buried around the property to keep her remaining family safe. In the past, she’s buried things to make the grass grow or the river run dry. Constance used to give Merricat pretty things to bury, and she also buried her baby teeth. On Thursdays, Merricat dresses in her family’s clothes in the attic. On Mondays, the sisters neaten the house. Merricat isn’t allowed into Uncle Julian’s room.
A substantial amount of Merricat’s time is consumed with making sure the family remains safe and isolated. Her practice of burying safeguards is the first hint of her witchcraft. The fact that Merricat dresses in her family’s clothes every single week supports the idea that she feels preoccupied with their deaths, and this is her way of both remembering them and taking on all of the roles that they played in the house.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
On Saturday mornings, Merricat helps Constance in the garden. Their cellar is filled with jars of food that have been stored by generations of Blackwood women, and Constance takes pride in adding to the store. They never eat the food that their relatives have canned, however, and Constance says it would kill them. As Merricat eats jam that morning, she thinks of Constance making it.
The shelves of preserved food represent the legacy and enduring strength of the female Blackwood line. Though it’s unclear why, Constance says the food would kill them—this suggests that Merricat was acting in harmony with her heritage when she also used food to kill.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Uncle Julian sometimes has trouble getting up, so Constance always brings him a breakfast tray. On good days, he eats in the kitchen and studies his papers, saying that if he dies, someone who isn’t too worried about truth must write his book for him. Merricat hopes that this morning he’ll be able to sit in the garden. She tells Constance there’s a change coming, but Constance chalks it up to the coming of spring.
Uncle Julian isn’t terribly concerned about his likely death; he seems to expect it. He shamelessly disregards the value of truth, believing, in fact, that his book will do better without the truth. This suggests that truth can never really be pinned down in this novel as a whole.
Themes
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
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Constance brings Uncle Julian his tray, and Merricat hears him ask whether her father is home. At first, Uncle Julian thinks that Constance is her mother. Merricat decides to choose three protective words, and as long as they’re never spoken aloud, the change won’t come. Her first word is “melody.” Constance emerges, saying that Uncle Julian isn’t well. Merricat wants to take him to the moon. She decides her second word will be “Gloucester” and she suggests that Constance make a pie.
Uncle Julian’s memory has been disrupted by the effects of the arsenic he ate, and his misapprehensions of reality contribute to the house’s atmosphere of alternative reality. Merricat turns to witchcraft to keep the world in the order that she wants, and the word “melody” suggests something that repeats in a predictable way, which makes sense if Merricat wants to prevent change.
Themes
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
Later, Constance runs down to the garden to gather vegetables while Merricat listens for Uncle Julian to awaken. A little after eleven, Constance goes to her room. Merricat opens the front door as Dr. Levy arrives. He hurries to Uncle Julian’s room. Uncle Julian always wants to know why Dr. Mason, who was the doctor Constance called on the night of the poisoning, isn’t there. Dr. Levy closes the bedroom door, and Merricat decides “Pegasus” will be her third magic word. The doctor emerges and rushes out of the house. Merricat calls Constance down from her room.
The sisters follow a dependable routine such that Constance can go to her room without a word at a certain time and Merricat knows that it’s because she’s avoiding the doctor’s visit. Although Dr. Levy is kind to Uncle Julian, his hurried passage through the house suggests that he doesn’t feel comfortable there. Merricat’s choice of “Pegasus” references her desire to fly to the moon on a winged horse.
Themes
Isolation Theme Icon
In the afternoon, Uncle Julian sits outside while Constance gardens. Uncle Julian describes the morning of the poisoning, remembering Constance and her father coming downstairs. He asks Constance what tune her father used to whistle, and she hums it. Uncle Julian thinks the girls’ father might not have been whistling if he knew he was about to die. That day, Uncle Julian told his wife that she should go help Constance in the kitchen, since they were living in his brother’s house.
Throughout the book, characters often wonder what people might have done differently if they had known the future—here, Uncle Julian does this about his brother. Julian seems to have felt that he and his wife were a burden on his brother’s family, but he put increased responsibility onto his wife rather than working himself to make up for living in his brother’s house.
Themes
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Uncle Julian recalls that he was still strong in those days and could dress himself. He lists the breakfast items that day, thinking that he might have let his wife eat more sausage if he’d known it was her last day. Uncle Julian’s brother (the girls’ father) always watched how much Uncle Julian’s wife ate, and Uncle Julian thinks his brother wanted his wife to be more helpful around the house. After breakfast, Uncle Julian sat in the garden with the women, and they talked about music while Constance weeded the vegetables.
Uncle Julian’s memories suggest that there was tension in the family surrounding the cost of having Julian and his wife live in the house. However, the Blackwoods seem to have always had plenty of money, meaning that the sisters’ father was simply a spendthrift. Uncle Julian is associated socially with the women here, and he will be consistently feminized throughout the book.
Themes
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Constance reminds Uncle Julian that her brother was climbing a tree and dropping twigs on them. Uncle Julian says he hopes and believes his wife was nice to Constance’s mother. They had a rarebit for lunch, and Uncle Julian wonders why the arsenic wasn’t in that. He doesn’t like rarebit. Constance takes him inside, since the sun is going down. He says he can’t afford to rest, since he has too many details to write down about the day of the poisoning. Merricat and Jonas follow them inside. Merricat asks whether Constance will take care of her when she’s old, and Constance says she will as long as she’s around, which frightens Merricat. They plan to have dinner and sit safely in the kitchen, where no one can see them.
Uncle Julian truly lives in the past, as he gives far more attention to details of the day of the poisoning than to anything about the world around him. His constant recounting of that day makes it as though he, Merricat, and Constance are living it over and over, particularly as they do little with their days otherwise. Merricat is concerned about the prospect of keeping Constance near her forever, and Constance’s ambivalence about being around when Merricat is old reinforces the sense of a coming change.
Themes
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon