Study Guide

Eleanor's Mother in The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

Eleanor's Mother

Like Hamlet's father, Eleanor's mother dies before the beginning of the story, and this death serves as the spur that pushes the protagonist into action.

Unlike Hamlet's father, Eleanor's mother at least has the common decency to stay dead. Mostly.

We get few clues about the complicated relationship between Eleanor and her mother. We know that Eleanor hated the old biddy because she was forced to spend eleven years of her life caring for her (1.5). Even so, Eleanor feels tremendous guilty over her mother's death. She even dreams of the night her mother banged on the wall for help, and she didn't bring the medicine quickly enough (4.245, 8.63). One thing that the novel never clarifies is whether this oversight was entirely accidental or whether Eleanor might have partially desired or caused it.

There's no clear evidence that Eleanor's mother's ghost walks the halls of Hill House, but it does seem clear that Eleanor's guilt about her death is a major driving force behind the forms of some of the manifestations. Eleanor can't enter the library because it smells of musky earth, which reminds her of her mother's grave. And at one point, Eleanor hears a voice calling her along, and she asks whether it belongs to her mother (9.2).

So, the questions remain: is Hill House using Eleanor's guilt over her mother to trick her? Is Eleanor's mind causing the midnight terrors to manifest as her mother? Or is Eleanor's mother really walking the halls of Hill House? We can only answer those questions with a shudder—er, shrug.

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