“We Have Always Lived in the Castle”: Food Images


Women are portrayed as both villains and victims in the Gothic novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, published in 1962, upending the typical portrayal of women in conventional Gothic literature. Mary Kate, a young woman, and Constance, a housewife who appears to be kind and selfless, are both single women. This paper’s goal is to discuss the cultural approach to food’s symbolic meaning and how characters’ relationships with food reflect their social class, the position of power, worries, and desires both inside and outside of the family. In the Blackwood household, food is a dividing line between those in power and those under their thumb

The portrayal of food is a result of its frequent appearances in the book and the significance of its ubiquity. When Merricat felt ignored and insulted, she turned to food to cause havoc in her household. Even those who profess to be friends with Helen Clarke and Mrs. Wright’s friends are terrified to eat Merricat’s food. Thus, the cat has complete power over both of them. They may dine together without fear since Constance knows what Merricat is capable of and they trust and love each other. In the Blackwood household power in a family is shown by where they sit at the dinner table and how much food they can consume. Merricat makes a point of showing how much Mr. Blackwood relies on the Blackwoods’ money by giving him food whenever he comes to visit.

For instance, a greedy man, Mr. Blackwood, overfed himself and his kid while keeping a tight check on his siblings and their diets. Constance’s vulnerable position as a cook separated Merricat from her family, who regularly exiled her from the table and put her to bed without food. Families were shown in the ‘ritual’ dining by their set and ‘appropriate’ table positions. Merricat needs to be included in family traditions because it makes her feel like she belongs. Food is a symbol of membership in the novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Muñoz-González ). Merricat did not feel like a part of the family because of her repeated expulsions from the dinner table. Modern gothic, according to Bruhm, is defined by mourning over the loss of a ‘thing.’ Recognizing that it is possible to reclaim the “thread of punishment” (Muñoz-González). Additionally, Merricat is looking for the approbation of the tyrant who snatched her thing from her.

The displacement and non-belonging prompted an insane Merricat to slaughter a family she did not feel at home with. One of her sole supporters, Constance, was given amnesty. Constance ensured Merricat was fed regularly, no matter the harsh penalty. She also went unnoticed by the rest of the world even after the crime was committed. In the early wake of the tragedy, her social anxiety and family animosity was exacerbated by the lack of media attention even though she was not considered a plausible suspect for the murder. “I had not been allowed in the courtroom … I had been lying on the cot at the orphanage staring at the ceiling, wishing they were all dead, waiting for Constance to come and take me home” (Jackson 56). Merricat’s social isolation increases even further following the death of her family, as seen by her refusal to dine with others: “I detested eating anything when people were staring at me” (Jackson 100). Merricat’s impotence, her sense of non-belonging, and her family’s disdain are shown by the social rituals surrounding food.

Besides, women’s domestic duties like cooking and cleaning have been demonized for a long time as oppressive and confining. Ironically, the idea that a woman’s “rightful position” is in the kitchen has given men a false sense of security about their social standing. The connection between the author and her mother, “a phallic mother, Geraldine,” is said to be represented in Constance and Merricat by some analysts (Jackson 45). As Hauke points out, Jackson’s poor connection with her mother made her particularly sensitive to her mother’s apathy (45). Constance and her sisters seem to have nothing better to do but eat, mainly because the other characters, including Merricat, regularly consume the food that Constance has prepared or cared for in her vegetable garden. It is not hard to imagine that the Blackwoods’ constant feeding is a way for them to relive their past traumas, whether they are doing it consciously or unconsciously.

Food and Surrogate Mother (Constance)

Merricat poisoned the whole family to death except for a few, the most valuable person in her existence, always, her sister and substitute mother. In Merricat’s demented mind, the adverb is so essential that it appears in the novel’s title. For the rest of her life, she had chosen her sister as her guardian and carer. Empathic emotion regulation has been proven to play a significant part in food supply by Myrte and colleagues. When food is supplied, the donor and the recipient’s emotional states are managed. People’s relationships are strengthened when they turn to food for solace and support. Constance adds, “Merricat will eat something lean and rich and salty,” as a means of expressing her love for Merricat (Jackson 21). Additionally, Merricat, became happy and felt relieved every time her sister was present in the kitchen.

When Charles, Constance’s cousin, enters the picture, Constance’s focus shifts from Merricat to him. Charles is a driving force behind the occurrences around him. Before he came, Constance had expressed a desire to leave the residence. Constance has been housebound for the past six years, and Merricat is happy about it. She locks the fences and gates surrounding their property to keep them secure. Constance leaving the house has never bothered Merricat, who says, “Won’t we be here together, won’t we, Constance?” We’re the ones who’re putting the spotlight on this (Jackson 54). Merricat has no plans to modify her current status in any way. Through time, she longs to preserve her Castle, complete with its occupants and all of its belongings. The potential for the Blackwoods’ home to fall apart and the danger he poses to Merricat of being separated from Constance make Charles Merricat’s greatest nightmare come true. Merricat’s biggest nightmare is Charles. To display her distaste for Charles, Merricat refuses to dine with him at first.

Instead of just showing there, Constance makes Charles a lunch from scratch to ensure he feels at ease. When she tells Charles, “I’ll give you the list and the money, and you shalt be the grocery guy,” she is using Merricat as an analogy to describe Charles’s role as a food gatekeeper (Jackson 80). The fact that Charles informs Constance that her sister “worked like a slave” prevents her from preparing meals for Uncle Julian or Merricat. The faithful Constance shifts her focus from Merricat to Charles: The apologetic Constance says, “I am sorry, but I have a lot of work to do” (Jackson 81). The crux of the conflict between Merricat and Charles is Constance’s love of eating.

In the Blackwood family, it is shown that food is a significant, conveniently available battlefield for themes of autonomy, authority, and love, both symbolically want to exert ‘land rights’ over Constance. During Charles’s attempts to exercise his authority over Merricat, her mind flies into overdrive: “punish me? You mean send me to bed without my dinner?” (Jackson 94). The second tragedy is that the house is destroyed because she fears she will be evicted once more from Merricat’s building of a home or castle and family. As far as Merricat is concerned, no one can discipline her. Six years ago, after her parent’s and siblings’ death, she began associating punishment with food. With no one around to disturb her, Mercer daydreams about that tragic night.

Merricat’s vivid recollection of the events of the night of the murder reveals her desperate desire for love and attention. It shows their love, care, and affection for Merricat to get food from the other members of the community. Parents rush Constance to Merricat and refuse her food so she can attend Merricat, which is not by chance in Merricat’s fantasy world of relaxation. She places her narcissistic attitude above all else to be recognized and accepted. Merricat, Constance’s “poor baby,” has little respect for anybody but herself and her selfish desires to be treated like a child for the rest of her life.

Food, Gender, and Voice

Food and eating behaviors are influenced by ideology in ways that are difficult to see because of the influence of societal and familial institutions that perpetuate specific patterns. In Western society, women have historically been responsible for household cooking (Akçil 30). Constance’s connection to Blackwood’s women’s history can now be traced back to her love of food. Food elaboration for many women in the past became “a sign of their social standing and of the affection they provided their family,” following a classical tradition and pattern (Akçil 30). Besides assuming the patriarchal position of food provider, she also believes she is the greatest, the genuine American housewife in all of America’s stereotypes.

Initially, Constance serves as Merricat’s surrogate mother, and eventually, she is the most feminine member of the pair created by her and Merricat. Constance has matured into an adult through the care of her younger sister and by taking on household duties. Constance is a mature woman who explores the idea of a life with a man in which sensuality has a role beyond the ‘Castle’ walls. In addition to being Constance’s masculine principle/prince, Cousin Charles may also be considered her savior. Despite her age, the eighteen-year-old Merricat is still a youngster, a “poor baby” (Jackson, 112). ‘Food preparation provides not merely a way of instructing young women but an inculcation into some of the mysteries of adult female duties and perspectives.’ A familial danger to her goal of a life without rules or conventions was removed by her actions. Merricat cannot be a ‘Blackwood lady’ because “all the Blackwood women had created food” (Jackson 42). However, the Castle only accepts one ‘Mrs. This is Constance, who was previously known as “Blackwood.”


Humanity and familial affection are claimed to be absent from Castle’s Gothic book, which takes place in the United States. The inclusion of food and its preparation in the kitchen appears to be a purposeful strategy employed by the author to evoke associations with Western civilization’s long history of culinary culture. First and foremost, the common thread connects the Blackwoods to others, making them distinct from the rest of the population. Disparities in socioeconomic position, class, and culture are all reflected in food’s social meanings. Mother role Mrs. Blackwood, the vain and absentee mother figure, refuses to feed the insane Merricat. Merricat’s mother instilled a sense of self-importance and superiority as a youngster.

Researchers studying food and motherhood in numerous cultures found that mothers who restrict food from their children may communicate that they lack love and acceptance. As Merricat’s revenge, food on the Blackwood estate brings twice the grief. At the same time, Constance finds her metaphorical kingdom, happiness, and a method of expressing her voice and providing love, as well as retaining her self-confidence in food and its preparation. Constance and Merricat Blackwood’s “aching loneliness” and “unendurable guilt” have been debated, even though Castle features many qualities and a melancholy tone typical of Gothic literature. The “paranoid” happiness of the Blackwood sisters is incomprehensible, yet they discover it. Ending themselves in a mythical land, the Blackwood sisters become mythological figures. Since they are a one-of-a-kind human person, happiness is not something that comes easily or readily to them.

Works Cited

Akçil, G. ““House on the Moon”: Female Isolation and Sisterhood in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)”. Journal of American Studies of Turkey. 2021: p.27-52. Web.

Hauke, Alexandra. “A woman by nature? Darren Aronofsky’s mother! As American ecofeminist gothic.” Humanities 9.2. 2020: p.45.

Hauke, Alexandra. “An Ecology of Abject Women: Frontier Gothicism and Ecofeminism in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.” Haunted Nature. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2021. p.91-113.

Jackson, Shirley. We have always lived in the castle. Penguin UK, 2009. p.1-146.

Muñoz-González, Esther. Food Symbolism and Traumatic Confinement in We Have Always Lived in the Castle. No. ART-2018-109518.

Cite this paper

Select a referencing style


AssignZen. (2023, May 13). “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”: Food Images. https://assignzen.com/we-have-always-lived-in-the-castle-food-images/

Work Cited

"“We Have Always Lived in the Castle”: Food Images." AssignZen, 13 May 2023, assignzen.com/we-have-always-lived-in-the-castle-food-images/.

1. AssignZen. "“We Have Always Lived in the Castle”: Food Images." May 13, 2023. https://assignzen.com/we-have-always-lived-in-the-castle-food-images/.


AssignZen. "“We Have Always Lived in the Castle”: Food Images." May 13, 2023. https://assignzen.com/we-have-always-lived-in-the-castle-food-images/.


AssignZen. 2023. "“We Have Always Lived in the Castle”: Food Images." May 13, 2023. https://assignzen.com/we-have-always-lived-in-the-castle-food-images/.


AssignZen. (2023) '“We Have Always Lived in the Castle”: Food Images'. 13 May.

Click to copy

This report on “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”: Food Images was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Removal Request

If you are the original creator of this paper and no longer wish to have it published on Asignzen, request the removal.