We Have Always Lived in the Castle


Shirley Jackson

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle Themes

Themes and Colors
Female Power Theme Icon
Family and Gender Theme Icon
Guilt and Punishment Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
The Relativity of Truth Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Female Power

Throughout the novel, the actions of the female characters reveal a desire for revolt against the patriarchy. Due to family tragedy and social isolation, Merricat and Constance have power over their day-to-day lives that is unusual for young women in the 1960s, and the book is concerned with the sisters’ struggle to defend that power from men who would usurp it. The sisters’ ultimate triumph is that they succeed in banishing these men from their…

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Family and Gender

Family is an intensely fraught subject in this novel. On one hand, the only person in the world whom Merricat loves is her sister, Constance, and almost everything Merricat does is motivated by this love. On the other hand, Merricat has murdered her parents, her brother, and her aunt, and she lives with her uncle who survived the murders simply due to luck. While Merricat’s attitude towards family might seem to be chaotic and…

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Guilt and Punishment

This novel revolves around an unsolved crime: the murder of Merricat and Constance’s family six years earlier. While Constance was initially blamed for the poisoning, she was acquitted at her trial, which left the public with no clear answer about who was actually to blame. Meanwhile, Merricat—the real murderer—is never publically suspected, though, privately, Constance knows Merricat was responsible. The extent to which Constance was complicit in the murder is never fully clear, and…

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Constance and Merricat have cut themselves off from the world almost entirely since the deaths of their family. Although Constance fears the outside world, the story takes place at a time of change, when she’s beginning to wonder whether it’s time to face society again. She is partially receptive to Helen Clarke’s urging her to return to the world, though she’s also frightened at the prospect. Merricat also fears the outside world, but she…

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The Relativity of Truth

Because the story revolves around a mysterious past event, much of the narrative prompts the reader to try to figure out exactly what happened on the fatal night of the poisoning. Throughout the novel, there is a sense that this truth lies just out of sight. For some characters (like the villagers and Uncle Julian), truth is the same as conjecture, and for the two characters that do know the truth (Merricat and…

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