We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Merricat returns to the kitchen to find Constance making Uncle Julian’s breakfast. She says that he’s feeling much better. Merricat says that today she’s going to carry Constance to the moon, where they’ll eat rose petals. She wants to know whether leaves can be planted, and Constance says some can. Constance takes Uncle Julian his breakfast while Merricat considers putting a feather on the lawn where he’ll sit outside. Uncle Julian says he might begin writing a new chapter of his book today. He also says that he’ll brush his own hair and he requests liver for lunch.
Though Merricat chooses to believe that Charles isn’t in the house, her insistence on going to the moon indicates that she has been unsettled by his arrival and feels more than ever that she must convince Constance to join her in her ideal alternate reality where Charles can’t disturb them. Since Merricat and Uncle Julian never directly interact, her kindnesses to him consist of small, strange things such as leaving feathers on the lawn.
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Merricat and Constance are talking about breakfast and planting leaves when Constance says that Charles is still asleep, and suddenly Merricat can’t breathe. She insists that Charles was a ghost or a dream and that he can’t be in the house, but Constance tells her that he slept in their father’s bed. Merricat smashes a glass on the floor to make Charles go away.
Merricat believes so fully in the world in her mind that she can’t accept the reality that she saw with her own eyes. As Charles sleeps in the sisters’ father’s bed, he begins to replace their father, and he will exhibit many attributes common to Blackwood men.
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Constance insists that Charles is in the house, and he’s their cousin. His father wouldn’t let him help the sisters because he didn’t like them, but as soon as his father died, Charles came to them. Merricat says he can’t help them because they’re already happy, and she feels better because she can drive him away. Constance explains that Uncle Julian hasn’t seen Charles yet, because he wasn’t well the night before.
Charles seems to arrive with some good intentions of helping the sisters, but they are undoubtedly always mixed with a desire for money. Although Merricat sees no improvements that he can make to their life, Constance obviously does or she wouldn’t have welcomed him so easily.
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Constance says they’ll neaten the house after Charles wakes up. She sweeps up the broken glass while Merricat eats breakfast. Constance brings Uncle Julian to his papers in the kitchen, and he says he’s going to begin his next chapter with an exaggeration and proceed into a lie by saying his wife was beautiful. They all hear Charles’s footsteps upstairs. Uncle Julian wants Charles to tell him about his family’s behavior during the trial.
Constance again shows her complete tolerance for Merricat’s destructive fits of anger. Uncle Julian proves his disregard for the truth as he openly admits to lying in his book, which is supposed to be the definitive guide to the poisoning. He seems not to feel even the slightest guilt at being untruthful, and no one protests that he should be truthful.
Themes
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Constance greets Charles in the hall. He and Uncle Julian meet, and Charles reveals that, contrary to Uncle Julian’s expectations, his father left no money when he died. Uncle Julian had expected his brother, Charles’s father, to handle his inheritance better than Julian himself did. He recalls Charles’s mother writing to Constance to break off the family connection during the trial. Uncle Julian requests a cup of tea so that he can discuss matters with Charles.
Charles’s lack of an inheritance already points to the fact that he’s searching for money. Furthermore, Julian’s comments indicate that skill with money is an especially prominent marker of success for men within the Blackwood family, even though the sisters’ father’s success also made him unlikable in many ways.
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Merricat can’t see Charles clearly, either because of his size or because he’s a ghost. She hides in a corner of the kitchen, and when he greets her she ignores him. Constance excuses her behavior, seeming almost as though she’s always expected Charles to appear. Charles asks what Jonas’s name is, and Merricat tells him. Charles says they’ll all be friends. He decides he’ll have pancakes for breakfast. When Uncle Julian’s papers fall, Charles picks them up.
Merricat’s mental molding of the world around her seems to affect her eyesight, so that her desire for Charles not to be there makes her see him as not entirely real. She acts, as usual, much younger than her eighteen years, simply ignoring someone she doesn’t want to talk to. Charles accordingly treats her like a child.
Themes
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Uncle Julian commends Charles’s chivalry and, finding out that he’s thirty-two, remarks that Constance is approximately twenty-eight. He thinks that Charles is brave for eating Constance’s cooking, but when Charles says he’s not afraid of Constance’s food, Uncle Julian says he was referring only to the heaviness of pancakes, not to poison. Even so, Charles hesitates to eat the pancakes. Instead, he offers to Uncle Julian that he could do some work around the house while he stays. Constance points out that he survived eating dinner last night, and Charles finally eats his pancakes.
Uncle Julian initially takes a liking to Charles. His remark on Charles’s and Constance’s ages might imply that they would be well-matched romantically. Precisely by claiming not to be afraid of Constance’s cooking, Charles reveals that he is. Though Constance didn’t mind when Helen Clarke and Mrs. Wright were afraid of her food, Charles seems to be a different matter. Also, he exposes his patriarchal viewpoint when he speaks specifically to Julian about working on the house.
Themes
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Uncle Julian decides to return to an earlier chapter in which he discussed Charles’s family. Charles, however, wants everyone to forget about the trial. Uncle Julian feels that Charles is insulting his work, and he’ll have to make things up if Charles refuses to talk to him, which Charles does. Uncle Julian suddenly needs Constance to confirm that the poisoning really did happen. Merricat is angry with Charles for being cruel to Uncle Julian. Constance takes Julian outside into the sun, while Charles seems oblivious to his effect on Julian.
Charles is immediately upsetting the balance of the house, as he doesn’t understand that Uncle Julian must be indulged and the murders aren’t taboo. He’s already trying to impose his sense of what’s right on this family. Uncle Julian again displays his willingness to stray from the truth, implying that a good story is better than a true one. This could be a justification, since Julian is unsure of what the truth is. It could also be a symptom of his delusions.
Themes
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Jonas sits in the doorway. Charles tells Jonas that Merricat doesn’t like him, and asks how he can make her like him. Merricat wonders if holding her breath until a drop of water falls from the sink might make Charles go away. When Constance returns, Charles says he’s trying to get to know Merricat, and Constance says she’ll like him before long. Merricat says it’s the day to neaten the house.
Charles tries to gain Merricat’s trust through her cat, a technique that would usually be used on a much younger girl. He only seems to want to gain her trust so that Constance will like and trust him more. Merricat wants to stick to normal routines rather than let Charles change everything.
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While Merricat and Constance clean the house, Constance often goes to the window to check on Uncle Julian. She says they won’t clean their father’s room, since Charles is staying there, and she considers wearing their mother’s pearls, but then laughs at herself for being silly. Merricat wonders if Charles has moved items in their father’s room. She asks how long it took him to get to the house, and she speculates about how he’ll get home again. She thinks she needs to strengthen her protection around Constance to shut Charles out, and she needs to clean everywhere he’s touched.
When Constance thinks about putting on pearls, she not only deviates from the established pattern of their life, but she also veers towards traditional gender roles and heterosexuality by appearing to make herself more beautiful in order to attract Charles. Merricat begins to plot how she can get rid of him, but she only considers methods of witchcraft, rather than any more rational means.
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Next, the sisters dust the drawing room and Merricat pretends that the ceiling is the floor as she dusts the trim. Constance remarks that she should have already shown Charles this room, and she insists that Merricat will have to sit at the table with him soon. Merricat promises to do so at dinner. She asks where he sat the night before, and Constance says he sat in Father’s chair. Merricat plans how she’ll clean Charles’s touch from the chair and silverware.
The house itself seems to welcome alternate realities, as Merricat easily remakes it in her imagination. Unlike Merricat, Constance wants to integrate Charles into their life. By sitting in their father’s chair at dinner, Charles further takes his place in the house. Considering their father’s death, though, Charles might also be dooming himself.
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The sisters return to the kitchen, where Charles is smoking. When Constance goes outside to get Uncle Julian, Charles tells Jonas that Merricat doesn’t like him and wonders whether she knows how he gets back at people who don’t like him. Merricat and Jonas go eat sandwiches in a tree, and Merricat tells Jonas not to listen to Charles. She considers what magic device she might use to get rid of Charles. She decides that if he’s still there in three days, she’ll smash a mirror.
Pipe smoke is a very masculine symbol, and Charles is filling the very air with it. Since Merricat isn’t responding to him yet, he begins to become more openly hostile towards her, showing his true colors. Merricat displays her faith in an irrational witchcraft—she’s perfectly willing to break items in her own house even though there’s no reason it will make Charles leave.
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At dinner, Charles watches Constance helping Uncle Julian eat. Merricat doesn’t eat because Constance put dressing on her salad and because Charles is there. Charles doesn’t see how they stand eating with Uncle Julian. Uncle Julian speaks to Charles as though Charles is his father, Julian’s brother. When Julian begins to talk about the poisoning, Charles stops him. Constance is glad that Merricat has come to the table.
Charles becomes more openly hostile towards Uncle Julian, as well, no longer regarding him as the male head of the family, but instead as a disgusting invalid who is unworthy to even eat at the family table. Uncle Julian’s confusion suggests that the Blackwood men are similar enough to be interchangeable.
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Charles offers to fix the broken back step and go into the village for groceries, and Constance is grateful. Charles, however, is concerned to discover that she keeps their money in the house, in their father’s safe. He says that Merricat will have to find another job, now that he’s going into town. Merricat begins to tell him the details of the poisons found in the Amanita phalloides mushroom. He tells her to stop, but Constance only laughs, saying that she taught Merricat about poisonous mushrooms. Charles doesn’t think it’s funny.
Charles is integrating himself more and more into the life of the house, even to the point of replacing Merricat, which he seems to do quite consciously. In response, Merricat uses the family history to frighten Charles without directly threatening him. She particularly likes poisonous mushrooms, perhaps because they masquerade as food while actually being lethal, and she’s somewhat fixated on food.
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