We Have Always Lived in the Castle Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Sunday morning, Merricat feels the change coming nearer, but she refuses to think her three magic words. It seems like it might rain. Merricat asks after Uncle Julian, and Constance says that she’s worried he’s getting worse. He thought she was his wife and was wondering when he would die. Merricat decides that she’ll remember to be kinder to him whenever she sees something long and thin.
Merricat believes she can keep change from coming through her witchcraft. She wants to be kinder to Uncle Julian, but the fact that she constantly has to remind herself of this suggests that it doesn’t come naturally. Since his illness is her fault, perhaps her attempts at kindness are a sort of penance.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Merricat and Jonas go to the long field, where the grass is moving like an ocean in the wind. In the middle of the field, Merricat finds the rock marking the spot where she’s buried a doll. She feels like she’s walking on the buried treasure of everything she’s put in the ground. Then Merricat goes to the creek and checks on a box of silver dollars she’s buried there. She lies in one of her hiding places, where she’s made a bed out of leaves and branches in between some bushes and covered the entrance with a branch. She lies there and listens to Jonas tell her stories. She feels that nothing will ever change.
Merricat has made herself powerful by putting pieces of her life in the ground all over the property, as though marking her territory. However, the fact that these items are buried makes them almost unsettling—it’s as though, having missed her family’s burial, she now buries them over and over everywhere she can. Furthermore, it becomes clear that she believes she can understand Jonas, which suggests the relationship of a witch to her animal familiar.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Merricat kills a nest of baby snakes because she doesn’t like them. On her way home, she discovers that a book she nailed to a tree has fallen down, which is a terrible omen. She decides she’d better destroy the book. Little does she know that there’s a man approaching who’s probably already passing through town. Merricat and Jonas run back to the kitchen.
Merricat’s nonchalant killing of the snakes demonstrates her ability for sudden, irrational cruelty. She fully believes in the power of the book to protect or hurt her, and she blames the coming change on the book falling, though in a rational world this makes no sense.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
As Merricat and Constance have lunch, the approaching man is trying to find a way in past the fence. It begins to rain, and the sisters watch it from the kitchen. Constance asks whether Merricat ever wants to leave, and Merricat replies that the world is full of terrible people who don’t want them around. In the minute before the man arrives, Merricat could have done many things to try to prevent him from coming, but she only goes to fetch Constance a sweater.
Constance is still considering the virtues of the outside world, but Merricat is uncompromising in her pessimistic view of it. Admittedly, Merricat has had plenty of bad experiences with the villagers while Constance has remained safe at home. Merricat’s narration is very retrospective as Charles arrives, looking backward to imagine how things could have happened differently.
Themes
Isolation Theme Icon
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Merricat sees the man coming up the steps and tells Constance to lock the kitchen door, but Constance has gone into Uncle Julian’s room. Merricat leans against the front door while the man knocks and calls for Constance. The people who come to the house always know everything about Constance and her trial. They want to see her, and when they can’t, they take a souvenir from the yard. They want to talk to her or Uncle Julian, but never to Merricat, for Merricat hadn’t been present at the fatal dinner, and she was in an orphanage during the trial.
Merricat’s first interaction with Charles involves her trying to keep him out, and their relationship will essentially maintain this dynamic forever. The wide publicity of the murders becomes evident here, along with the fascination that people have with a beautiful female murderess. Merricat, however, remains almost unbelievably above suspicion and always ignored.
Themes
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
Merricat knows that the man will look for a face in the upstairs windows, and then he’ll go around to knock on the side door. Only the really stubborn people walk around trying every entrance. They drive right up to the steps, have picnics on the lawn, and graffiti the house. The man goes down the steps. Merricat can’t look outside, because any movement will give her away. She imagines him lying dead in the driveway. She goes upstairs to get Constance’s sweater, and when she goes back to the kitchen, Constance has let the man in.
Merricat’s hatred of strangers comes largely from her experience with these people who trespass and disrespect her space with their rude interest in Constance. Though Charles is, outwardly at least, not one of these people, perhaps he actually shares more of their characteristics than it initially seems. The fact that Constance lets him into the house is one of her biggest betrayals of Merricat.
Themes
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Merricat says that they were supposed to be safe until someone said her three magic words. Constance introduces Merricat to their cousin, Charles Blackwood. He wants Merricat to greet him with a kiss. Constance tries to soothe Merricat, but she runs outside and down to the creek. Jonas follows. She lies there and imagines that nothing is wrong. She blames the book falling from the tree for Charles’s appearance, and she plans to replace it with something new. She sleeps there with Jonas that night, and when she wakes, mist brushes her face and she laughs.
This is one of the only times that Merricat actually admits that her magic failed. Since Merricat is eighteen, Charles’s request for a kiss both makes her seem like a child and gives him the potential to be sexually dangerous. By leaving the house, Merricat initially allows Charles to take her place there. The fact that she can so easily imagine him away suggests just how much of her life is fabricated in her mind.
Themes
Family and Gender Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon