The Real Haint of Hill House

From the onset of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, the one thing that stood out to me was how given to whimsy Eleanor Vance was. She was surrounded by family she
did not like, and she had just been relieved of caring for her hysterical,
invalid mother, only through her death. So it was no wonder that Eleanor wanted
to run away, because, “Eleanor, in short, would have gone anywhere” (Jackson
8). Her interaction with her sister and brother in law over the car that she
helped pay for puts her misery on display. The conversation is marked by Carrie
and her husband carrying on the conversation around Eleanor, when she is
supposed to be a participant. They don’t listen to anything she is saying, and
they talk over her. As a result, Eleanor has few words. Her yearning for escape
is well justified.

It isn’t remarkable that she retreats to the whimsical world inside her head, where she seems to have spent most of her life anyway, while she is driving to Hill House. She thinks that “she might wander till she was exhausted, chasing butterflies…and then come at nightfall to the hut of some poor woodcutter who would offer her shelter” (Jackson 17). She goes from this fantasy to another where a house she passes is her own, and she invents an entire life for herself in that house. A short distance further and she is
distracted by the story she builds around oleander trees that are shaped in a
square for seemingly no reason at all. However, by the time she witnesses the
family in the restaurant and Eleanor silently entreats the little girl “Don’t
do it…insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like
everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again” (Jackson 22), it is
very clear that Eleanor is a little more than simply taken with fantasy. She is
indeed like the little girl she tries to save with her silent pleadings, and
has been tricked into being like everyone else.

Once Eleanor meets Theodora and Luke and the three of them engage in make believe silliness together to help ward off the misgivings they all have about staying at Hill House for the summer, it seems that Eleanor is just one of the crowd. After all, only Dr. Montague, who is a distinguished older man, is the only one of the party who does not fall into the storytelling as easily as they do. She does not stand out as being different from her
housemates.

Or so it seems. As soon as the playacting becomes Eleanor’s answer to every question, we can see her falling deeper into the make believe world she has created for herself. Instead of holding the belief that “Hill House is vile; it is diseased” (Jackson 33), she acknowledges several pleasant attributes of the house. It seemed no coincidence that she began to feel this way the same night she told Theodora the invented story about her little
apartment that did not exist. Up to then, during her interactions with the
others at the house, she played along with them. This was the first time she
told her own story and passed it off as truth. Now that she had opened herself
up as a blank slate to be reinvented, Hill House was able to work its way into
that opening.

One of the things Jackson has done by introducing us to Eleanor in this manner is that when strange things begin to happen at the house, we see Eleanor as either imagining the incidents or somehow causing them. The major disturbances occur with her in the center of them. It seems to me that Hill House was not actually haunted before Eleanor came to stay, and she is the haint that is haunting Hill House. These disturbances increase as
Eleanor’s mental instability does. The house itself contains remnants of the
lives that passed through it, surely. But those remnants have never been proven
to be actual hauntings or anything otherworldly. Only when Eleanor takes up
residence are there occurrences that can be witnessed and recorded by others. The
house is odd, and spooky, but maybe it took such a catalyst as Eleanor for the
house to truly come alive and form a permanent kinship with the odd, spooky
lady who came to stay for the summer.

 

Works Cited

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. New York: Penguin Books, 1959. Print.

 

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About rjjoseph

I am a Texas based writer who must produce words to exorcise the voices that will never quiet until I give them their due.
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3 Responses to The Real Haint of Hill House

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone mention Nell with the word “whimsey.” That’s a first on me. I think she’s very child-like, repressed in every manner and more than a little awkward. I think that’s what adds to the tragedy of the story. Yearning to be free, she winds up damning herself.
    Thanks for your perspectives!

  2. Jayme Brown says:

    I wouldn’t have used whimsey to describe Eleanor, not at first glance at least. Perhaps it’s the maturity of her words and phrases that threw me off the whimsey scent, but you’re completely right. She’s a little girl who has been playing make believe her whole life. And who could blame her? I like that you pin pointed timing. You actually see when she commits to the fantasy; the lie. Was the house urging her to do so? Or by deciding to tell the little lie allow Eleanor to delve into a deeper . more dangerous world of make believe? It’s all very interesting. I suppose you can widdle it down to Nell having a repressed childhood. I keep picturing Bette Davis in, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.” Nell wasn’t a violent crazy, like Baby Jane, but instead she suffered from a whimsical insanity. Yep, that’s our Eleanor.

    Really great analysis! Thanks 🙂

  3. I think you make an excellent point when you say that when Eleanor first passes off a lie as her own, she “opened herself up as a blank state to be reinvented,” allowing Hill House in to maker her its own. Whether it was already classically haunted or not, I agree the house was an entity and it was pulling Eleanor in. Great post!

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