We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods-until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiousity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.
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Notice the speaker in this opening paragraph, and then watch the following video on point of view. From what point of view is this novel being told? (This annotation contains a video)
Notice the italicization of the word "he" in this dialogue. What purpose does the use of italics serve in this excerpt?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
What literary term is present in the highlighted excerpt?
Does this dialogue look familiar? We saw the exact same exchange a few pages back... To whom might this "he" refer?
What can the reader likely infer about Mary Katherine based on the details provided so far in Chapter One? For specific clues, examine the highlighted paragraph...
Notice the nickname "Merricat." It has an almost happy sound to it (like the word "merry"). Why do you think the author chose to contrast such a dark character with such a happy sounding nickname?
How would you characterize the mood of the book so far? Refer back to moments in Chapter One and provide at least two examples to support your analysis.
Notice the details so far in this chapter, particularly the author's attention to describing the gate to the house as well as the note here about Mary Katherine locking the door. Watch the following video on symbolism... What might the gate and door symbolize? (This annotation contains a video)
What is the meaning of the word "chilled" as used in the context of the highlighted sentence?
Helen Clarke tells Constance that she's "done penance," implying that Constance has perhaps shut herself away from the world as a form of self-punishment. What do you think Constance may have done?
Which of the following literary devices is present in the highlighted excerpt?
Notice the detail "hesitated," as well as the details that Mrs. Wright's hand had been "trembling." Mrs. Wright seems nervous... Why do you think she is uncomfortable and "hesitating"?
Based on the details provided regarding the arsenic in the sugar, which of the following statements can the reader infer is true?
Although Constance was acquitted of the crime, you should still question the validity of the speakers throughout the text. As you read, consider whether or not you think Constance is guilty of the crime or not.
Why does the author include the detail about Constance washing the sugar bowl before police arrived to investigate?
Why do you think Constance smiles at Mary Katherine as she says this? What image or feeling does this provoke in your mind?
How is Constance characterized in Chapter Two? Using at least three examples from the text, analyze how the author wants the reader to perceive her as a character.
What do you think of the author's word choice when Julian says "If I am spared" here?
What can we infer about Uncle Julian based on this dialogue?
Examine the details in the highlighted passage. Based on the author's description, which of the following statements is likely true?
Prior to this paragraph, the doctor seems to act in a friendly manner. Be sure to question the reliability of Mary Katherine as your narrator. Do you think she is being completely honest in her descriptions of other people?
Make an inference. What is the author's purpose in including these lines of dialogue between Julian and Constance? Provide at least two examples from the highlighted excerpt to support your analysis.
Notice how many times Mary Katherine declares that she is "chilled" throughout the text. So far, she has used that specific word at least four times in the first three chapters. Why do you think the author specifically chooses this word to describe Mary Katherine's current states?
What is the significance of Mary Katherine's frequent mentioning of her dream to go to the moon?
Which of the following best characterizes the way in which Constance often speaks to Mary Katherine? Refer to the highlighted line for an example.
Which of the following rhetorical choices adds to the mystery and suspense of this scene?
Mary Katherine seems to have some compulsive behaviors and may in fact be dealing with some psychological issues. For example, Anthropophobia literally means a "fear of people." It typically involves a pathological fear of social interaction, often marked by extreme shyness, avoidance of eye contact, blushing, uneasiness, and / or awkwardness when interacting with others. Do you think Mary Katerhine is struggling with some form of this disorder? What is your reaction to her behavior and compulsions?
Why does the day suddenly "fall apart around" Mary Katherine?
What's your reaction to Mary Katherine's behavior here?
Knowing about the incident with the arsenic, are you surprised Charles is not afraid to eat what Constance prepares? Would you be nervous to eat Constance's food?
Make an inference by observing the details in the highlighted excerpt. What details suggest that Charles might, in fact, be a bit nervous to eat Constance's food?
Words often carry connotations, which can contribute to the overall mood and tone of a text. Watch the following video on connotations and examine any words that stand out as having notable connotations in this highlighted passage. (This annotation contains a video)
This is the second time Mary Katherine mentions that Constance put dressing on her salad. What does this repeated detail reveal about Mary Katherine's character?
Why does Mary Katherine mention the symptoms of poisonous mushrooms at the end of this chapter? How does this detail impact the overall mood of this scene?
What is the significance of Charles being given a key to the gates?
What is the purpose of the author's frequent mentioning of death throughout the novel?
What do you think of Charles so far? Do you perceive his actions and words to be friendly or hostile?
Constance stops mid-sentence here. What do you think she is leaving unspoken? What do you think she is considering?
Why does the author include this dialogue in the highlighted passage? In particular, why does the author note that Charles wants to know if the figurine is valuable?
How is the author able to create suspense and mystery in this opening paragraph? Pay particular attention to the highlighted excerpt, and use at least three examples from the text to support your analysis.
Notice Charles' complaint here... He complains that the money does not belong to Mary Katherine, asserting that she has "no ride to hide it"; however, the money also does not belong to Charles, so does he have a right to protest about it? What do you think?
What do you think Charles means when he tells Constance "The sooner you're out of it"? To what does the "it" refer?
What recurring theme is evident in this highlighted passage?
Mary Katherine is imagining her family as they once were--alive and together. Examine the dialogue... Do you think this is an accurate memory of the past, or do you think Mary Katherine is fictionalizing their former family dynamic?
Which of the following literary terms is evident in the highlighted excerpt?
Mary Katherine had just been in Charles' room... Do you think it was Charles' pipe that started the fire, or do you think it is possible that Mary Katherine may have somehow caused the fire?
Watch the following video on static and dynamic characters. Based on the highlighted dialogue, do you think Constance is more static or dynamic? (This annotation contains a video)
What does the comment "let it burn" reveal about the villagers' relationship with the Blackwoods?
Remember to question Mary Katherine as your narrator. Do you think her depiction of this scene is accurate?
Make an inference. To whom does the "she" refer in the line "Did she kill him"?
The author has spent the majority of her novel building tension and suspense. Here, at the end of the chapter, she suddenly hits the reader with a major surprise in revealing that Mary Katherine, in fact, poisoned her family. Read the following poem "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe and consider how he, similar to Shirley Jackson, slowly builds suspense and tension. (This annotation contains a link)
Refer to the previous annotation to read Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Raven." Compare and contrast the ways in which Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allen Poe gradually build tension and suspense through the use of figurative language, diction, and detail. Include at least two examples from each text to support your analysis.
The author is able to create a rather creepy mood throughout the novel. One of the ways in which she is able to achieve this is through her diction. Notice how, although the entire house has been destroyed by vandalism and fire, Constance still goes to make vegetable soup "almost singing." What is your reaction to this juxtaposition of a chaotic setting with a "singing" (happy) attitude from Constance?
What theme, suggested throughout the novel, is now present and reinforced in the highlighted passage?
Why do you think Mary Katherine now sees her house as a castle? What is the significance of this and how might it connect to the title of the book?
What literary term is present in the highlighted excerpt?
As an objective reader, what can you infer about Jim and Helen Clarke's intentions?
Notice Mary Katherine's comments here. Is this a "typical" reaction to a family member's death? What is the author's purpose in including this line?
This dialogue is very revealing. It informs the reader that Mary Katherine knowingly and intentionally poisoned her family.
Read the following poem "Death is Nothing At All" by British writer Harry Scott-Holland. The author, a priest at London's Saint Paul's Cathedral, originally spoke these lines as part of a 1910 sermon and did not intend for this to be a poem; however, it still carries many poetic qualities. Consider how Scott-Holand's view of death compares with Mary Katherine's view of death. (This annotation contains a link)
Refer to the previous annotation to read "Death is Nothing at All" by Harry Scott-Holland. Compare and contrast the ways in which Scott-Holland and Mary Katherine view death. Provide at least two examples from each text to support your analysis.
What is the author's purpose in including the details regarding Mary Katherine's observations of the children?
Notice the lengths to which both girls will go in order to avoid going to the village where they would be forced to socialize. What is your reaction as Constance considers making new clothes out of table cloths to avoid leaving the house.
What is the effect of the word "skins" instead of "clothing" in the highlighted line?
What's your reaction to people bringing the girls food? Do the villagers' actions contradict the way in which Mary Katherine had described them?
What can you confirm about Charles' character and motivations by this dialogue?
Based on the highlighted passage, what can you infer Mary Katherine means when she talks about the moon?
Read the following soliloquy from Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo speaks the following lines before ending his life with poison. Consider how passionately Romeo views death, evident in particular by Shakespeare's use of figurative language and connotations. How does this attitude differ from Mary Katherine's attitude towards death? (This annotation contains a link)
Refer to the previous annotation to read the soliloquy from The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Identify Romeo and Mary Katherine's attitudes towards death, and analyze how their views differ. Provide at least two examples from each text to support your analysis.