Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived In The Castle” offers the best literary description of mob mentality and social anxiety that I’ve come across so far. Jackson display her extraordinary ability of realistic descriptions of human beings and their strange quirks. Especially amusing and tragic are her characters attempts at keeping up a normal life, when their circumstances are anything but. The change of atmosphere in the Blackwood’s family home at the arrival of their male cousin is very realistic. The relationship between the sisters suffer a strain when the oldest one, realises how miserable her existence is. With the arrival of Charles, Constance longs to escape her suffocating, pantomime of a life. Her character displays clarity for the first time in the story, but only due to a man’s influence. Gravity shifts from Merricat to Charles, who now enters the household as the most dominant character. Both Merricat and Charles are negative forces in their own right, influencing and/or destroying those around them in order to get what they want or to make a point. Charles is more obvious and by shaking up the relationships within the family change the atmosphere of the household completely. Merricat internalize her contempt, is vindictive by nature and more subtle. She displays an “us vs. them” attitude in regards to the villagers, but only in her own thoughts. The ending of the story is very tragic and can be read as a warning of what can happen if someone never leaves their comfort zone. The sisters are pretty much buried alive in a fantasy, that only death will liberate them from.
The book yields few “stand-alone” quotes and has to be enjoyed and valued in its entirety.
” It was a fine April morning when I came out of the library; the sun was shining and the false glorious promises of spring were everywhere, showing oddly through the village grime.”
“Their throats will burn when the words come out, and in their bellies they will feel a torment hotter than a thousand fires.”
My only criticism is the excessive focus on food in the story.