The Macksey Journal


In this essay, I explore the ways Shirley Jackson’s revision of the traditional gothic in We Have Always Lived in the Castle provides the illusion of matriarchal dominance. Critics typically read this novel as a celebration of female power, which the women hijack from male authority figures, but I argue that by analyzing the feminine objects in the novel, we can see that the illusion of matriarchal power actually supports a patriarchal society. Historical and cultural contexts, including Shirley Jackson’s biography, allow us to see the psychological oppression placed on women in twentieth-century American society. This background moreover illuminates women’s roles and responsibilities as well as the importance of objects like food and jewelry in women’s lives. As a result, we can see the power Jackson gives her female characters— a power based on domestic authority—is really only an illusion. Ultimately, I argue, the novel is a critique, not a celebration, of matriarchal power.