We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
During the night, Merricat hears an ambulance take Uncle Julian away. People call for the sisters, but no one comes into the woods. Because Uncle Julian believed Merricat was dead, Merricat takes his death to mean that people will die if they don’t respect her. She wonders how the house will be different, and whether the fire might have burned away the last six years and her family might have returned. Maybe she and Constance will be living in an entirely different house, or maybe she could persuade the fire to burn the village instead. Maybe the village is really a game board, and Merricat is almost at the end, where home is.
Although Merricat has never expressed any anger at Uncle Julian for his refusal to recognize that she’s alive, her response to his death suggests that she actually did resent his treatment of her—perhaps because it echoed her family’s tendency to ignore her. Furthermore, she thinks that she has unconscious power over life and death. The house is the main structure of her reality, and now that it’s burned, reality is up for grabs. Merricat thinks the fire could quite possibly have altered both time and space.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
It’s Helen Clarke’s day to come to tea, but Merricat and Constance will have to straighten the house instead. Merricat decides that in the future she won’t be allowed to give people teacups. Still in the shelter, Merricat goes to Constance when Constance awakens, and Merricat tells her they’re finally on the moon. Constance feels like she’s dreamed everything that happened, but she thanks Merricat for bringing her to the shelter. Her face is dirty, and Jonas stares at her. Merricat says they need to neaten the house, and reminds her that she never ate dinner the night before. This concerns Constance.
Even as Merricat feels that everything is different, her mind still works through routine and rules. It becomes clear for the first time that Merricat herself has made all the rules that she’s been following throughout the book. She says she and Constance are on the moon now because she knows instinctively that they will never interact with other people again and will live as they like. Ironically, Constance is most worried not about the fire, but about Merricat missing her dinner. This shows the supremacy of food and care over material things in the sisters’ world.
Themes
Isolation Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
Constance washes her face in the stream while Merricat folds Uncle Julian’s shawl, which Constance has been wearing. Merricat has never touched the shawl before, and it shows her that the rules are different now. Constance is worried Merricat will starve. They go carefully down the path, watching for anyone who might still be around. Finally they come to the edge of the woods and see their house. The second story is entirely gone, and they can hardly believe it. The garden is smoky and covered in ash.
Though Merricat makes her own rules, they also seem to come from something beyond her that she can’t control. Constance’s concern that Merricat will starve is absurd, particularly in the face of the real death of Uncle Julian, but it shows that the normal rules of the world apply even less than they ever did to these women. It also implies that Merricat must be constantly satisfied to keep from becoming dangerous.
Themes
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
The ground floor seems unharmed, so Constance opens the kitchen door. Merricat fears this will make the house collapse, but it doesn’t. Constance can hardly bear the sight of her kitchen. Merricat thinks perhaps they haven’t come home on the right path. The kitchen table is turned on its side, two chairs are smashed, and the floor is littered with broken dishes and silverware. The walls are covered with jam and syrup and the sink is filled with broken glass. It seems like all the treasures of the house, particularly the Blackwood women’s items, have been broken and scattered. Constance goes to the cellar to check on the preserves and finds that they haven’t been touched.
The kitchen has always been the heart of this house and the place where the sisters do their main activities: cooking and eating. Thus, the villagers have been sure to ruin this most important place, in part due to their morbid fascination with Blackwood food as a result of the poisoning. However, the preserves, which represent the power of the female Blackwood line, are still intact, suggesting that the sisters still have their fundamental strength.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
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Constance prepares to make breakfast while Merricat begins to look for items that are still intact. Constance brings food up from the cellar and finds a saucepan on the floor. She discovers that some of the food in the pantry is untouched, and Merricat realizes that the floor is scattered with sugar. The villagers must have had lots of fun throwing it at each other. Merricat examines the cans and boxes of food broken on the floor, and Constance says the food in the cooler is also safe to eat.
Now that the sisters are beginning a new, entirely isolated life, they are free to give in wholly to their fixation on food. Even though their house is in shambles around them and their uncle is dead, they immediately begin to make food. The villagers would obviously have targeted the sugar in their destruction of the house because of its role in the poisoning.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Merricat puts three unbroken chairs around the table and drinks chicken soup. Time and orderly days have disappeared, so it’s impossible for Merricat to say in what order she does things. Constance thinks she hears Uncle Julian waking, then realizes this is impossible. They sit in the kitchen, unwilling to go further into the house yet. Constance says that there will be a funeral for Uncle Julian. Merricat was in the orphanage during the funerals for the rest of her family, but Constance went. She says he’ll be buried with the family. She remarks that she and Merricat are all that’s left, and they’re going to isolate themselves more than ever. Helen Clarke will never come to tea again.
If time is one of the fundamental structures of the outside world, then its disintegration in Merricat’s mind signals the disintegration of reality within the house and the dissolution of ties to the village. Though Constance is aware of Uncle Julian’s death, she shows no sadness over it. Merricat has been trying to keep Constance from reentering the outside world for the whole book, and now Constance is finally in total agreement that isolation is the best policy for their lives. She’s seen what the villagers are capable of and has been betrayed by Charles—Merricat is the person she can trust.
Themes
Isolation Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
The library books are still sitting on their shelf, and Merricat thinks this is because anyone who destroyed them would be fined. Constance sits still, staring into the distance, but Merricat says they need to clean up. The dining room is a mess, as the windows and chairs are broken. The front door is open and the drawing room drapes are in the hall. Merricat sees the marks of the cars and feet and hoses on the front lawn. She retrieves one of her mother’s Dresden figurines from under a bush and brings it to Constance.
Merricat’s remark about the library books is absurd—the villagers were certainly not worried about library fines the night before—but it shows her own dependence on rules. The Dresden figurines can be seen as a symbol of the female Blackwood line, since they belonged to the sisters’ mother. The survival of this figurine, then, indicates the support and endurance of the Blackwood women.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Constance takes up the figurine and says that everything was her fault. Merricat says she loves her and requests a cake for herself and Jonas. Constance says she’s going to clean the kitchen. She goes to put the Dresden figurine back in the drawing room. The room is destroyed, though their mother’s portrait still hangs, undisturbed. Fabric is torn and dirty, and the walls are blackened. Constance hesitates, but Merricat steps out of the broken windows and closes the shutters. She goes back in through the front door, and Constance puts the figurine on the mantel. For a moment the room looks as it should, but then it falls apart forever.
When Constance blames herself for everything, it’s very possible that she means not only the debacle with Charles, but also the poisoning six years earlier, which she might feel she played a role in or could have prevented. Merricat remains fixated on food even in the ruins of their house. The drawing room has held some of their mother’s presence, but now they close it up as though they’re ready to abandon their own past in addition to the outside world.
Themes
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
The safe is on the ground, and they laugh at the fact that no one got it out of the house or opened it. They close the drawing room door, and no one ever goes in again. Merricat closes the shutters over the dining room windows, and then they lock the front door and feel safe. They can look out the glass beside the door, but no one can see in because the hall is so dark. There are spots of sky showing through upstairs, but Merricat doesn’t think anyone will come from above. She wonders where the house has gone as she feels the air come in from outside. She thinks of the house as a castle with turrets. Constance tells her to come back to the kitchen.
Charles and the outside world in general are obsessed with money, so the continued presence of the safe in the house where no one cares about it represents a victory for the sisters over the world of masculinity and capitalism. As they close the shutters and lock the front door, the sisters close themselves off from the outside world once and for all. As they’re able to see out while nobody can see in, they become voyeurs, gaining power in their ability to watch.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Merricat and Constance go through the trash on the kitchen floor to find everything that’s still intact, including china, silverware, cans of food, and spices. Every Blackwood woman brought her own china into the house. Constance designates a cup for each of them, reminiscing about which china their mother used. Then she sweeps everything into the dining room and they close the door forever. Merricat has Constance cut her a piece of the cord for the drapes, and she considers burying it for Uncle Julian.
The china is a symbol similar to the food in the cellar, representing the female Blackwood heritage. Significantly, china is generally used for serving food. In permanently closing the dining room, the sisters leave behind their past, particularly the poisoning. Besides, Uncle Julian is no longer around to dwell on it constantly.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
They clean everything from the kitchen through the hall to the front door. They lock the front door and the kitchen door and feel safe, sitting at the kitchen table drinking milk. Then someone begins to knock on the front door, and they run into the cellar. Helen Clarke begins to call their names outside. Merricat wonders if she has come for tea. She comes around to knock on the kitchen door, convinced that the sisters are inside. Jim Clarke is with her, and she tells him that the sisters misunderstood the villagers the night before—no one meant them any harm. She wants Merricat and Constance to come to the Clarke house where she can take care of them, but Jim says to leave them alone.
Merricat and Constance essentially narrow their house to consist only of the kitchen, the hall, and Uncle Julian’s room. As the center of food and eating, the kitchen is all that they really need. The Clarkes’ visit is the first test of their new, complete isolation. This scene becomes absurd, as both Merricat and Helen minimize the impact of the events of the night before, Merricat thinking Helen might still be coming for tea, and Helen insisting that the people who destroyed the house meant no harm.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
Merricat thinks they’ll have to cover the kitchen window so Helen Clarke won’t be able to see in if she returns. Helen continues to call to them, and Constance gets impatient because her soup is going to boil over. The Clarkes finally return to their car. Merricat goes to the front door to make sure they’re leaving, and she can hear Helen still calling for Constance as they drive away. Merricat says Helen really wanted her tea, but Constance says she’ll never have tea there again, since they only have two cups with handles. Merricat is relieved that Uncle Julian isn’t there, or else someone would have to use a broken cup.
Complete isolation will require the sisters to take drastic measures, such as living with boarded-up windows. Constance treats the situation absurdly, worrying most about food, as usual. In fact, Constance shows her willingness to help construct and live within Merricat’s strange reality, as both of them place the value of teacups over the value of their uncle’s life or their association with an old friend. They’re free to worry about what they want now and dismiss the rest.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
Constance asks how they’re going to live a normal life, but Merricat isn’t worried. There’s a dirty mattress on the stairs, and they pull it out onto the lawn to dry. They look at the spot where Uncle Julian used to sit, and Constance says she’ll bury a flower there. There’s lots to do, but Merricat thinks they’re going to be very happy. Constance is sad about her kitchen, but she’s neatened it up. Merricat suggests she could train Jonas to catch rabbits for them.
Constance is still in the beginning stages of accepting Merricat’s point of view, and so she continues to have moments in which she sees their new life from an outside, “normal” perspective. Merricat finally has what she’s wanted during the whole book—Constance all to herself, with no one to disturb them.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
Constance makes an onion pie while Merricat covers the kitchen windows with cardboard so that no one can see in. She says it would help if they let the windows get dirty, but Constance can’t stand the idea of living in a house with dirty windows. She’s unhappy about the darkness of the kitchen, so Merricat says they can keep the door open if they watch for anyone approaching. The kitchen is cozy.
Constance continues to cook without end, and the kitchen becomes more than ever the center of their life. Absurdly, Constance is horrified at the sight of dirty windows even though the entire house is in ruins, but she can stipulate whatever rules she wants for what is and isn’t acceptable.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
Merricat makes sure the front door is locked. Constance says that tomorrow she’ll clean Uncle Julian’s room so that Merricat can sleep there. However, Merricat says she isn’t allowed in his room. She wants to sleep in the kitchen on the mattress. Despite Constance’s worry, she goes out to her hiding place by the creek and retrieves her blanket. When she returns, Constance has made dinner. They plan the improvements they’ll make the next day.
Merricat begins to compulsively check the front door, showing that she’s more concerned about keeping them in isolation than about anything else. Though it has seemed at times that Merricat follows Constance’s rules, it’s confirmed again that Constance doesn’t set the rules, Merricat herself does. Even now, she can’t go in Julian’s room.
Themes
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
A car stops in front of the house. Merricat makes sure the kitchen door is locked. There’s a knocking at the front door, but before long Jim Clarke and Dr. Levy come around to the kitchen door. They see a crack of light through the cardboard over the windows. Dr. Levy wants to know whether they’re hurt, and Jim Clarke is supposed to bring them home with him. They knock on the door. Dr. Levy says they don’t want to bother the sisters, just to know whether they’re safe. He just wants them to say they’re all right. Constance and Merricat are glad to see their safeguards are working.
Jim Clarke and Dr. Levy represent a good, rational slice of the outside world—they are far different from the villagers. However, the sisters never waver in their resolve to have nothing to do with anyone. They hardly even seem to hear what the men are saying, and they only take note of the men as proof of their own ability to keep everybody else out. In this sense, their new isolation is not only physical, but also mental.
Themes
Isolation Theme Icon
Dr. Levy says that Uncle Julian’s funeral is the next day. Jim Clarke says the sisters might feel differently about their friends if they saw all the flowers that have been sent. Merricat doesn’t understand why flowers would make them feel differently. Constance takes a bite of her biscuit, and Merricat has to keep herself from laughing. Jim Clarke gets frustrated. Dr. Levy says one day they’ll need help, but Jim Clarke pulls him away and they walk around to the front. Merricat wonders if they’re trying to fool the sisters, but she hears the car drive away.
Merricat and Constance have no use for the ceremonies and social niceties of normal society; such things literally have no meaning to them anymore. Food and laughter are important to them now, and being able to eat and find humor while the men try to drag them back to reality shows that the sisters have created an impenetrable fortress in which they rule entirely.
Themes
Female Power Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Constance apologizes for being wicked the night before and reminding Merricat of why their family died. Merricat is chilled and tells her not to remind her now. Constance wanted Merricat to forget about what happened. Merricat says she put the arsenic in the sugar because Constance never used sugar, and Constance says that she knows. They’ll never talk about it again. They say they love each other. They sleep on the kitchen floor that night. Constance says that, since she’s taken such good care of the kitchen, it has to welcome her now.
Constance demonstrates an almost frightening degree of acceptance of the fact that Merricat killed her family. In fact, she’s the one who feels bad for bringing it up, rather than placing any blame on Merricat. Although it’s ridiculous to think that Merricat could forget what she did, Constance’s desire for her to do so shows her love for her sister and suggests that Merricat does feel guilty, after all.
Themes
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon