A Head Full of Ghosts, Revisited

A reader named Stephanie sent me an email about my earlier post on A Head Full of Ghosts, and I found it so interesting I thought I’d post it and my answer here. Warning: Major Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t read the book, don’t read the question. Once you do, leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Here’s the question.

If Marjorie has access to the poison, why didn’t she just poison the family herself? She knew Merry wouldn’t eat the tomato sauce, so she could have quietly added the poison to the sauce without involving Merry at all. Especially since one theory is Marjorie truly cared for Merry and was attempting to spare her life. I do not see much kindness in tricking Merry and thus having her live with the potential guilt and trauma. What are your thoughts?

This is an excellent question that I never really considered. It’s possible that I enjoyed the ending so much that I never thought about it. But looking back, why did Marjorie do that? There’s a couple possible answers I can think of. One is superficial, while the other fits more squarely in the narrative.

  1. It’s just an homage to We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Ghosts is full of homages to other horror novels, none more obvious than Merry being named after Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood from We Have Always Lived in the Castle. And if it wasn’t obvious, it becomes so when Merry poisons her family, just as Merricat did in Castle. Under this theory, she doesn’t do it for any particular reason; it just made for a handy homage and shocking ending. Like I said, superficial, but certainly possible. Theory 2 is more satisfying, albeit much darker.

2. Because Marjorie is filled with hate for everyone, including Merry.

Whether Marjorie is possessed by a demon or a paranoid schizophrenic, she’s been through hell and is filled with anger and hate. Her father allowed the most traumatic time of her life to be televised for the world to see. Her mother abandoned her and let it happen. That explains why she kills them, but why put Merry in the middle of it?

Because, deep down, Merry was the person she despised the most.

Oh there was some conflict, and we see that in the confused and inconsistent way that Marjorie treats Merry. But at the end of the day, Marjorie subjected Merry to some of the worst of her psychotic episodes. And why not? Merry was normal. She wasn’t troubled. She was fine. Is it any surprise that Marjorie’s envy would get the best of her? And that it would drive her to the ultimate act of revenge? If Marjorie could never be normal and well-adjusted, if she could never be happy and untroubled, then she was going to make damn sure that neither could Merry.

And I would say she succeeded.

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