Raven Symoné

Raven Symoné

Friday, February 14, 2014

Postmodernism in WHALITC

Jake Nusynowitz

AP Language & Composition

Ms. Howard

13 February 2014

Daniel Green explains postmodernist literature as “…challenging established literary

convention” (Green 1). Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In the Castle, in many ways, can be 

seen as a postmodernist work as it employs a trait many postmodernist works employ: an unreliable 

narrator. We Have Always Lived In the Castle twists the truth, offering readers an undependable 

narrator: the criminally insane Merricat. At the beginning of the book, we are introduced to Mary 

Katherine as a relatively regular character with slightly odd tendencies. Her remaining family is 

introduced shortly after, which includes Constance, whom she pins the death of her entire family on: 

“My niece, after all, was acquitted of murder” (Jackson 66). Throughout the entire novel, we are lead 

to believe that Merricat is a reliable narrator: why wouldn’t she be? From her eyes, we see her as the 

only sane character in the story for a long time as Merricat's narration highlights the insanity of her 

family. Firstly, her sister, Constance, is seen as the murderer 

who killed her entire family and got off scot-free. Uncle Julian is portrayed as the insane paralyzed 

elder who, in Merricat’s “motherly” eyes, cannot take care of himself (he believes she is dead) and 

constantly needs guidance. Lastly, Charles is seen as the enemy by Merricat, causing us to assume he 

is without a doubt an enemy to the reader and automatically labeled as “antagonist”. But when the 

unreliability of Merricat, our narrator, is revealed after the climactic fire, all of the previous 

assumptions we have made of characters must be questioned: “I am going to put death in all their 

food and watch them die…the way I did before” (Jackson 187). This plot-twist not only alters the

readers opinion towards Merricat, but the opinions on other characters formed throughout the novel 

as well. Is Constance truly mentally insane? Is Uncle Julian truly

 paralyzed? Should Charles truly be seen as the enemy? Jackson’s portrayal of Merricat as a innocent 

protagonist throughout the novel, only to steal the comfort the readers have gained in the novel by 

revealing her as the true antagonistic character exemplifies postmodernism. But somehow, readers

 still side with Merricat, seeing innocence in her. Why is this? Many times in postmodernist works, 

every question can not be answered, but Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In the Castle is a chilling 

read that, without a doubt, fulfills horror and mystery cravings around the world.

                                                                Works Cited

Green, Daniel. "Postmodern American Fiction." The Antioch Review Sept. 2003. QuestiaSchool. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.

Jackson, Shirley. We Have Always Lived in the Castle. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Jake, you have some very interesting points! I like how you touched on Merricat and her usefulness as a narrator. The whole story sets her up as the young innocent, victim to an awful crime. We definitely get a surprised in the traditional narrative when the true killer is unveiled. It really makes you question how you might have been biased throughout the beginning of the story by projecting innocence onto Mary...