We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Food Symbol Icon

Food acts as a symbol of power in this book. When Merricat felt ignored and disrespected by her family, she used food to destroy them. Now, even people who say they’re the sisters’ friends hesitate to eat their food, thus Merricat can manipulate Helen Clarke and Mrs. Wright by offering them food and making them show their fear. In contrast, it is a mark of power that the sisters can eat without fear, and a mark of trust in and love for each other that they eat with one another—after all, Constance knows what Merricat is capable of.

Furthermore, food preparation has traditionally fallen within a woman’s household duties, making it an instrument of oppression that keeps women in the home. Generations of Blackwood women have fulfilled this duty, as evidenced by the shelves of canned preserves in the cellar. But it seems as though the sisters have finally taken this legacy of oppression through food to turn it against the oppressive Blackwood men. If men have been reassured of their power in society by the image of a woman in her “rightful place” in the kitchen, then the poisoning turns that image on its head.

As Constance is always tending her vegetable garden or cooking, and the other characters, especially Merricat, are always eating what Constance has prepared, it sometimes seems that the sisters have little to do other than eat. Considering the poisonous association with food in the Blackwood house, though, it seems likely that their constant eating is essentially a daily reenactment of the fatal dinner, a manifestation of their conscious or unconscious obsession with the trauma of the past.

Food Quotes in We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The We Have Always Lived in the Castle quotes below all refer to the symbol of Food. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Female Power Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of We Have Always Lived in the Castle published in 2016.
Chapter 1 Quotes

...I wished they were dead. I would have liked to come into the grocery store some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain and dying. I would then help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs. Donell while she lay there. I was never sorry when I had thoughts like this; I only wished they would come true. “It’s wrong to hate them,” Constance said, “it only weakens you,” but I hated them anyway....

Related Characters: Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood (speaker), Constance Blackwood (speaker), Mr. Elbert, Mrs. Donell
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 8-9
Explanation and Analysis:

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Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!

Related Characters: Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, Constance Blackwood
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

She took the groceries carefully from the bags; food of any kind was precious to Constance, and she always touched foodstuffs with quiet respect. I was not allowed to help; I was not allowed to prepare food, nor was I allowed to gather mushrooms, although I sometimes carried vegetables in from the garden, or apples from the old trees.

Related Characters: Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood (speaker), Constance Blackwood
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

“Another child, my niece Mary Katherine, was not at table.”

“She was in her room,” Mrs. Wright said.

“A great child of twelve, sent to bed without her supper. But she need not concern us.”

I laughed, and Constance said to Helen Clarke, “Merricat was always in disgrace. I used to go up the back stairs with a tray of dinner for her after my father had left the dining room. She was a wicked, disobedient child,” and she smiled at me.

“An unhealthy environment,” Helen Clarke said. “A child should be punished for wrongdoing, but she should be made to feel that she is still loved.”

Related Characters: Constance Blackwood (speaker), Uncle Julian Blackwood (speaker), Helen Clarke (speaker), Mrs. Lucille Wright (speaker), Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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“First,” she said, “she bought the arsenic.”

“To kill rats,” Constance said to the teapot, and then turned and smiled at me.

... “She cooked the dinner, she set the table.... It was Constance who saw them dying around her like flies—I do beg your pardon—and never called a doctor until it was too late. She washed the sugar bowl.”

“There was a spider in it,” Constance said.

“She told the police those people deserved to die.... She told the police that it was all her fault.”

Related Characters: Constance Blackwood (speaker), Mrs. Lucille Wright (speaker), Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, Uncle Julian Blackwood
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

All the Blackwood women had taken the food that came from the ground and preserved it, and the deeply colored rows of jellies and pickles and bottled vegetables and fruit, maroon and amber and dark rich green, stood side by side in our cellar and would stand there forever, a poem by the Blackwood women. Each year Constance and Uncle Julian and I had jam or preserve or pickle that Constance had made, but we never touched what belonged to the others; Constance said it would kill us if we ate it.

Related Characters: Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood (speaker), Constance Blackwood, Uncle Julian Blackwood
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

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I ate tiny sweet raw carrots while Constance washed the vegetables and put them away. “We will have a spring salad,” she said.

“We eat the year away. We eat the spring and the summer and the fall. We wait for something to grow and then we eat it.”

Related Characters: Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood (speaker), Constance Blackwood (speaker)
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

“Mary Katherine should have anything she wants, my dear. Our most loved daughter must have anything she likes.”

“Constance, your sister lacks butter. Pass it to her at once, please.”

“Mary Katherine, we love you.”

... “Mary Katherine must never be punished. Must never be sent to bed without her dinner. Mary Katherine will never allow herself to do anything inviting punishment.”

“Our beloved, our dearest Mary Katherine must be guarded and cherished. Thomas, give your sister your dinner; she would like more to eat.”

“Dorothy—Julian. Rise when our beloved daughter rises.”

“Bow all your heads to our adored Mary Katherine.”

Related Characters: Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood (speaker), Constance Blackwood, Uncle Julian Blackwood
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 95-96
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

One of our mother’s Dresden figurines is broken, I thought, and I said aloud to Constance, “I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die.”

Constance stirred, and the leaves rustled. “The way you did before?” she asked.

It had never been spoken of between us, not once in six years.

“Yes,” I said after a minute, “the way I did before.”

Related Characters: Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood (speaker), Constance Blackwood (speaker)
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

“I was very wicked,” she said. “I never should have reminded you of why they all died.”

“Then don’t remind me now.” I could not move my hand to reach over and take hers.

“I wanted you to forget about it. I never wanted to speak about it, ever, and I’m sorry I did.”

“I put it in the sugar.”

“I know. I knew then.”

“You never used sugar.”

“No.”

“So I put it in the sugar.”

Constance sighed. “Merricat,” she said, “we’ll never talk about it again. Never.”

I was chilled, but she smiled at me kindly and it was all right.

“I love you, Constance,” I said.

“And I love you, my Merricat.”

Related Characters: Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood (speaker), Constance Blackwood (speaker)
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

“I believe the one you are wearing now was used for summer breakfasts on the lawn many years ago. Red and white check would never be used in the dining room, of course.”

“Some days I shall be a summer breakfast on the lawn, and some days I shall be a formal dinner by candlelight, and some days I shall be—”

Related Characters: Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood (speaker), Constance Blackwood (speaker)
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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“I wonder if I could eat a child if I had the chance.”

“I doubt if I could cook one,” said Constance.

“Poor strangers,” I said. “They have so much to be afraid of.”

“Well,” Constance said, “I am afraid of spiders.”

“Jonas and I will see to it that no spider ever comes near you. Oh, Constance,” I said, “we are so happy.”

Related Characters: Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood (speaker), Constance Blackwood (speaker), Jonas
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Food Symbol Timeline in We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The timeline below shows where the symbol Food appears in We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Merricat tells Mr. Elbert which food items she needs. When she mentions Uncle Julian and sugar, the people in the store... (full context)
Chapter 2
Isolation Theme Icon
...the kitchen. Constance puts the groceries away, since Merricat isn’t allowed to deal with the food. Constance plans their lunch, remarking how happy she is whenever Merricat comes home from the... (full context)
Isolation Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
...Constance put the library books on the shelf, where they’ll stay forever, and prepare the food. She asks whether Constance is afraid because Helen Clarke is coming to visit. Constance says... (full context)
Family and Gender Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
...been sent to bed without dinner. Constance says that she would often bring her sister food in her room when she was in trouble. (full context)
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
Uncle Julian describes the food that night, much of which came from Constance’s garden. He points out that if Constance... (full context)
Chapter 3
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 5
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Chapter 7
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
...all, she must never be sent to bed without her dinner. They pass her more food, rise when she rises, and bow their heads to her. (full context)
Chapter 8
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
...Merricat can tell that Constance is tired of his anger. Uncle Julian is mashing his food up and eating with a napkin under his chin. Constance tells Merricat to tidy herself... (full context)
Chapter 9
Female Power Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 10
Isolation Theme Icon
...she imagined. Constance thinks it’s a happy place and says they should preserve as much food from the garden as they can. They leave the kitchen door open when they go... (full context)
Female Power Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
...He leaves a basket. Later, when they finish dinner, they bring the basket inside. The food is still warm, and Constance imagines the woman making it. She says she must wash... (full context)
Female Power Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
The villagers begin to leave all kinds of food for the sisters in the evenings. They imagine that the women have the food ready... (full context)
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
...a line of the old mocking rhyme on a dare, someone leaves a basket of food with a note of apology that night. Merricat wonders if she could eat a child,... (full context)