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Group Reads > March Group Read: We Have Always Lived In The Castle *SPOILERS*

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message 1: by Jason (new)

Jason | 176 comments Begin...


message 2: by Aloha (new)


message 3: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments Great review, Aloha. I loved that house and was so bothered when it was burned. I try to look into their future to see what they can possibly do when they run out of things, but I can't see beyond currently.

I extensively talked about this book in another group last year, so I'm importing some of the points I made over here. Maybe it'll start some good discussions.

Let's talk about:

Merricat's OCD: I think that's what she has. I do odd stuff like she's doing. Like, "If the next car that drives by is red, that means my package will be delivered today." I don't have OCD, but I do odd things like that a lot. I only believe it works when the answers are something I want to hear.

Constance's Pollyanish personality: Very odd when she says things like "I will wave to uncle 5 times this morning!" Constance gushes. "Merricat, I will make you chocolate mousse for dessert!" Who talks like they do?

The burning of the house: I cannot stand lynch mobs and was shocked at the ugliness of their neighbors. Not only did they scream "let it burn," but the fire chief was the first to pick up a rock and hurl it through the window. That was shocking to me! I thought he was going to be the voice of reason because he had told them it was his job to put out the fire; that he was NOT going to let it burn. Man is such an ugly beast underneath.

I cried when the first neighbor knocked on the door to voice his apology for breaking a chair and left them baskets of food. I am so sad for what those people did to their home. People are so cruel sometimes.

It's easy to forget that the Blackwoods are elitists in the town. So, yeah, the town doesn't have much empathy or kindness for them. "We have always lived in the castle." We are better than you; we have more than you do. We don't associate with you.

About the ending: I got to wondering if the neighbors' kindness is not a kindness but more like an appeasement to two witches who might put a hex on them? They already have a reputation in the town, and the fact that the man wrote that he was sorry he broke a chair, and, at the end, a mother wrote a note about how her son didn't mean to chant the rhyme about them, might mean something more than being a good neighbor.

It's like in the day time they neighbors exude a devil-may-care confidence about trampling through their yard and talking smack loud enough for the sisters to hear, but when night falls they're ready to make nice and send some kind of token to ward off whatever powers the sisters have. Just a thought.


message 4: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 4052 comments I heard that Shirley Jackson has some nervous problems such as agoraphobia. Maybe she is also OCD. All of the characters are believable. I've seen people with OCD, agoraphobia. I've seen Pollyannas, where they seem oblivious of the bad things going on around them. And I've seen people's resentment building up to ugliness and then regret after harm has been done. I also know that people aren't usually fully repentant, but most likely go back to their natural habits. A leopard doesn't usually change its spots.


message 5: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 1168 comments Tressa wrote: "About the ending: I got to wondering if the neighbors' kindness is not a kindness but more like an appeasement to two witches who might put a hex on them?"

When I read the book for my Lit Major paper, that was a detail I loved quite a bit. After this big, interesting, heart-breaking story you get to the end and realize that it's also the "origin story", as it were, for the "crazy old neighborhood witch lady", filling up the stereotype with character, and also making you realize that it's not that far from the truth.


message 6: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments When I read it back in the '80s, it never occurred to me that the neighbors' small kindnesses of clothing and furniture and food might not be attempts at making amends, but might be fear. And all these offerings were to ward off the evil eye or something. I can't believe that went right over my head!


message 7: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 4052 comments When people are ignorant, they often do what they can to control their environment, including actions that do not make sense to us now. It makes a lot of sense that they're not truly sorry for their actions, but make offerings more out of superstitious fear.

I'm finishing up The Painted Bird, and the peasants' actions, some awful, were based a lot on superstitions and fear. When life is difficult and there is no clear control, they often turn to superstition. I came from the poor and ignorant part of Vietnam, so I saw a lot of that. It's ugly to us, but it makes total sense based on their environment. Their actions are more out of a way of seeking control of their environment rather than of evil.


message 8: by Phil (new)

Phil (philhappy) | 148 comments I read this last year and I loved it. I truly think it’s a masterpiece. Like Shawn, what I loved most about it is that it’s an “Origin story”. Everything unfolds slowly and beautifully into a belief system that you can take or leave (or believe or not).

Maybe it’s a modern fairy tale about witchcraft as it relates to metal illness and poor circumstance.

Maybe it’s an allegory on all belief systems; the donation of goods to appease, out of fear or repentance. Do you/we worship God out of fear/love/guilt? Are we atoning for our sins and trying to make amends?

Personally, I love an ambiguous tale that I can interpret in different ways on a daily basis… sort of like that stuff in the bible.


message 9: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments I can't tell you how scared I am of lynch mobs. Get a group together, agitation begins, someone is itching for someone to throw the first rock, and then all hell breaks loose. I hated those people who did that to their house.

It is a masterpiece, Phil. Jackson was a genius when it came to chipping away layers to strike the core of a character. She and Flannery O'Connor write in a similar style. There's always something dark stirring beneath their characters.

Maybe it is an allegory on religion. Nice point.

Anyone notice how Constance tried to live like a normal girl when cousin Charles came to visit. His presence highlighted how effed up the family was.


message 10: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 4052 comments How people try to control their environment makes for interesting stories. With Merricat, it's believing in the magical properties of things. With the town's folks, it's the superstitions surrounding the Blackwood family.


message 11: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments I've watched some shows on hoarders. That's how they try to control their environment. Very bizarre and sad.


message 12: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 4052 comments My ex-roommate was a self-admitted clutterer/hoarder. She was supposed to clear out the garage so I can park in there next to her car. Never happened. 1/2 of the garage looked like a dump. I mean, it was embarrassing whenever she opens the garage door. Her walk in closet had piles of clothes on the floor. How much effort does it take to hang up your clothes? It was unbearable living with her. I couldn't think with her clutter, her constant argument with her daughter, her leaving cabinets and doors open wherever she goes, etc., etc.


message 13: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 1168 comments Tressa wrote: "Anyone notice how Constance tried to live like a normal girl when cousin Charles came to visit. His presence highlighted how effed up the family was."

There's actually a very interesting thing that happens with the familial dynamics in the book (this was the point of my paper, a psychoanalytic reading of CASTLE). Merricat idolizes her sister and kills the rest of the family except Constance and Julian. By doing this, Merricat gets to regress to a childlike state with Constance as her "Mother" and Julian as an impotent, crippled "Father". Then Charles shows up and he's a threat to this scenario, as a vital male interested in Constance, so he must be removed. The way things play out (with the mob rushing the house, symbol of home and safety, destroying things, and then the fireman dragging huge hoses through, it might as well be Merricat's life being "raped"), Julian dies, Charles is repulsed, and Merricat and Constance live in a perpetual fantasy "on the moon", an infant's dream of the womb as wonderland. The clincher for me is a little detail - to survive on what's left in the wreckage, Constance starts wearing Julian's clothes - thus becoming both parents combined into one for a regressed Merricat, an infant's conception of parents as a single figure. IIRC a number of her magical wards are symbolic of stopping or ending time as well, which makes sense for someone who doesn't want to grow up and eventually moves backwards.

What an amazing book! Merricat's little fantasy in the summerhouse of everyone bowing down to her is dementedly brilliant.


message 14: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 4052 comments Wow! What a great analysis, Shawn. How much do you charge for psychotherapy?


message 15: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments A much deeper reading than I ever did, Shawn. Thanks for those insights.

What is up with Uncle Julian talking so nasty about his late wife?

Are any parallels drawn between the Lizzie Borden legend and this story? Those were two similar sisters, and there was that "Lizzie Borden took an axe..." rhyme, similar to the one the kids sang when Merricat was near.


message 16: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 1168 comments Tressa wrote: "Are any parallels drawn between the Lizzie Borden legend and this story? Those were two similar sisters, and there was that "Lizzie Borden took an axe..." rhyme, similar to the one the kids sang when Merricat was near. "

It wouldn't surprise me if part of the inspiration was Lizzy - IIRC, she ended up an old maid haunted by her possible "reputation" and that kid's rhyme, just as Merricat does.


message 17: by Shawn (new)

Shawn | 1168 comments Aloha wrote: "Wow! What a great analysis, Shawn. How much do you charge for psychotherapy?"

Thanks. I read the novel, took notes, read-up on psychoanalysis and then drank cup after cup of coffee sitting in a diner dashing it off as fast as I could the day before it was due. I'd probably be embarrassed by it now!


message 18: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments Did you get an A?


message 19: by Shawn (last edited Mar 01, 2011 09:08PM) (new)

Shawn | 1168 comments Yes! In that, and piano. Now, years later, I can neither write college level term papers (if I ever could) nor play the piano!

I should mention that during the reading I did of other critical takes on the book, there was a theory floated, without much hard evidence in the book but through some suppositions, that Merricat may have been molested as a child by her Father. I can't remember the specifics (they were pretty vague specifics, IIRC) but something to do with the descriptions of the feeling of wires binding her or burning her or something like that. I haven't read the book since the paper, so I can't remember the detail.


message 20: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 4052 comments Funny, I thought that perhaps there was some molestation.


message 21: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments I'll have to check on the molestation suspicion. I wouldn't be surprised. What a screwed up family.


message 22: by Elena (new)

Elena | 36 comments I enjoy reading all your views and analysis of the book. I really don't see that much into it, sorry.

I was wondering, can you compare her to any contemporary author? I was thinking if an author writing a short story like that today would be popular.


message 23: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments Elena wrote: "I enjoy reading all your views and analysis of the book. I really don't see that much into it, sorry.

I was wondering, can you compare her to any contemporary author? I was thinking if an author..."


Elena, what do you not see that much into it? Are you talking about the things that Aloha, Shawn, and Phil and in previous posts?

Will have to think hard to find a contemporary author similar to Jackson.


message 24: by Elena (new)

Elena | 36 comments I do see the OCD (I have a child with chronic OCD), the neighbor fears versus the repentance , the child like state of Merricat, etc., but it was just a silly short story to me. A book I'll read to my grandchildren someday.

I don't imagine a book like this is today's bookshelves at the bookstores. That is why I asked the question about who she would compare to today. I read short stories from S.King and C. Barker but they don't compare. Maybe this is a different genre?


message 25: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments Well, Castle is a novel, not a short story. Personally, this isn't something I'd read to my grandkids.

I don't read a lot of short stories, so if there are similar stories I wouldn't be familiar with them. Mayeb the others can give some suggestions.


message 26: by Lori (new)

Lori | 1318 comments Honestly, I had no idea what to expect and tried to go into this with as open of a mind as possible. I have really enjoyed reading everyone's take on the novel.

My big unanswered question was why do you think she killed the family? I did see up above some mentioning of molestation, but wanted to see what else you guys thought of? I honestly couldn't grab onto anything as a dead giveaway so I'm open to hear it all!


message 27: by Jason (new)

Jason (darkfiction) | 3233 comments I am late getting to this. Hopefully soon...


message 28: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments I think the reason Merricat killed her family is so that she and Constance could live alone. Merricat is a pretty selfish person, and no one else fit into her idea of what her life should be like. I'm sure they all spoiled the perfect little world she had created by their talking and fighting and breathing and telling her what she could and couldn't do. But that's my take on it.

Jason, for some reason it feels like the end of the month to me, lol. It's only March 4, so you have plenty of time.


message 29: by Jason (new)

Jason (darkfiction) | 3233 comments Very true, Tressa. I had planned on having Castle done by now, but became committed to something else that's taking up a lot of my time. I am nearly free to start it soon, though. :)


message 30: by Lori (new)

Lori | 1318 comments Yeah, Merricat is a stranger ranger. At first, I assumed she loved and was clingy to Constance because they were the only 2 left after the tragedy, but when Cousin Charles comes to visit, stuff gets really weird! It turns from a sisterly love to a jealous lover kind of love, to me.

I was so torn because part of me was like "Just leave Merricat & Constance to the life they have!" then when Charles showed up, I was thinking "He's totally right, the way they live is abnormal!"


message 31: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments Good point, Lori. I frankly can't stand Charles, but he does have a point. But then again, who are we to say what's normal for them? I tend to focus on Merricat's behavior, but Constance also has some odd behavior and she's supposed to be the normal one.


message 32: by Lori (new)

Lori | 1318 comments Also too, on the topic of this book being under a different genre, I totally see it as horror.
I didn't at first, but couldn't think of another way to describe it. But after mulling over the idea for a while, I can't see as anything except horror. Tbd sinister undertones are amazing!


message 33: by Jaime (new)

Jaime (janastasiow) | 32 comments I finally started this tonight, can't wait to get caught up and post:)


message 34: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 4052 comments I think Merricat is somewhat of a sociopath, selfish and unable to realize the depth of her actions. I also believe the family is highly dysfunctional, to the point where it affects Merricat and Constance differently. When a family is dysfunctional, either the person responds in a Pollyanish way, pretending all the weird things are not happening, or inhabits the hatred from the dysfunction. Merricat inhabits the hatred, using "magic" to ward off people who bother her, and being a sociopath. Constance's reaction is opposite. She becomes the "mother", making the world as wonderful as possible with her motherly actions, and ignoring that there are seriously wrong things happening around her.


message 35: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments Charles came to visit for one reason: to steal. I hate Charles.


message 36: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Lyons (amandamlyons) I just started the book today and I can already say I like it better than The Haunting of Hill House :) Of course I like anything Jackson writes so its fun to read anything I haven't already gotten to by her.


message 37: by Kasia (new)

Kasia (kasia_s) | 3126 comments Mod
I have just finished it a few seconds ago, amazing, I loved it, great pick! 5 stars from me :)

It was so whimsical and charming with this element of uncertainty and danger lurking, truly magnificent, my favorite parts were the ones where Mary and Jonas walked through the tall grass and spend lazy days in the woods, just beautiful.


message 38: by Kasia (new)

Kasia (kasia_s) | 3126 comments Mod
Tressa wrote: "Charles came to visit for one reason: to steal. I hate Charles."

Me too, I wanted to put my hands into the book itself and wring his neck, he was an awful greedy man.


message 39: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) | 19935 comments Kasia, glad you liked it so much! I gave it five stars, too. It's a very foreboding book. I kept waiting for something terrible to happen, and it did. I'm a very domestic person who likes to stay close to home, and it really broke my heart for the only thing they would ever have to call theirs--the house--was destroyed. It's also where they go to feel protected and to keep away from the eyes of the neighbors.

Amanda, what are you doing in here? Spoilers abound! I don't want any surprises to be ruined for you.


message 40: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 4052 comments It's sad that to get rid of Charles, Merricat made the decision to do what she did. Why couldn't she find another way to get rid of him? I'm sure she's a creative kid.


message 41: by Lori (new)

Lori | 1318 comments Aloha, I feel the same way.
I was totally expecting her to just poison him too.


message 42: by Oscar (new)

Oscar | 165 comments I never saw the OCD thing here, lol!

I have OCD, so maybe it's repression. *goes to wash his hands*

;)

Anyways, I'll begin my comments by posting one of my favorite segments from the novel.

“I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die.”

Constance stirred, and the leaves rustled. “The way that 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” (Jackson, 161).


message 43: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Lyons (amandamlyons) Tressa wrote: "Kasia, glad you liked it so much! I gave it five stars, too. It's a very foreboding book. I kept waiting for something terrible to happen, and it did. I'm a very domestic person who likes to stay c..."

Don't worry! I'm not reading any of this til I get done but I thought I'd mention that I have started. I might even finish it tonight actually :)


message 44: by Jason (last edited Mar 06, 2011 05:41PM) (new)

Jason (darkfiction) | 3233 comments I love that line, "I'm going to put death in all their food and watch them die."

Sends shivers down the spine!


message 45: by Scott (new)

Scott I must remember to use that line sometime.


message 46: by Kasia (new)

Kasia (kasia_s) | 3126 comments Mod
I loved how she buried things and parts of her and her life were one with the Earth, such an unusual story but I think one that many people can relate to, having your safe spots, your games.. sans the poison of course!

I thought that her pas crime would come out in Uncle Julian's book as he wrote it, but I felt that she as the one.


message 47: by Kasia (new)

Kasia (kasia_s) | 3126 comments Mod
Tressa wrote: "Kasia, glad you liked it so much! I gave it five stars, too. It's a very foreboding book. I kept waiting for something terrible to happen, and it did. I'm a very domestic person who likes to stay c..."

I loved it, great pick! I'm just like you, I could sit home for days and only venture out from pure necessity, and work of course, bleh...


message 48: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 4052 comments Kasia, I thought that a big revelation would come out from Uncle Julian's book, and that Merricat would kill him because of that.


message 49: by Mark (new)

Mark (markmckeejr) | 133 comments Finished last night. This is the first full length work of Jackson's that I've read. Appreciate everyone's comments in this thread, especially the psychoanalytic approach from Shawn - brought to light some thing that I'd totally let fall to the side while reading.

I also like the idea that the neighbor's offerings are to appease the "witchy" sisters - good call w/ that one, Tressa.

- Cousin Charles? Would you step right down into the basement, here? I have an ax blade I'd like to introduce to your forehead.... - I wanted him to get it SO bad. From the moment he appeared, I kept waiting for his first utterance of money. The greedy bas#$$%.

My one problem is that, being a novel, none of the characters really changes their outlook. In a way, the townspeople sort of change, but it's a change, as Tressa said, that was halfhearted. Merricat, in her sociopathic mind, was probably incapable of change, and Constance did seem to change during the scenes in which Cousin Charles came to visit, but I think that was because they had a visitor and she always acted a little different when Mrs. Clark came to visit. That she has a "Pollyanna" outlook of the world is a great point.

At the very end, the final couple of lines, I was reminded of a typical O. Henry story with its twist-ending. Merricat says, "Poor strangers, they have so much to be afraid of." While this could be argued as a reason behind the townspeople's gifts to the two sisters, I find it ironic in that, though she won't come right out and admit it, she's scared to death of the townspeople and lives her life shut up in the house and grounds of the family plot, only venturing out when it's necessary to buy food and exchange library books. Merricat talks about the unsavory nature of the village, but to me, there's an underlying sense of horror that she never fully expresses. Constance admitted to being frightened by them, but several times, she says she may like to venture out, see what is beyond the self-imposed barriers of the family's land. But of course she never does. The townspeople are definitely scared of the Blackwoods, and lash out with violence during the house-burning scene. They have no trouble admitting their fear, in song, in talk amongst themselves. Usually, though, a novel is about change in a character or characters way of thinking. To me, the characters stayed static throughout.

Still, w/ the precise language and the character portrayals, I'm more than glad I read it.


message 50: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 4052 comments Mark, the characters stayed static throughout, which I think is realistic of people. Their situations changed, though, and their actions changed according to their static characters.

I think the general theme would be about fear, and how you control that fear.


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