Study Guide

Luke Sanderson in The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

Luke Sanderson

Luke Sanderson is a liar, a thief, and kind of metro. He doesn't go to Hill House because he's interested in the paranormal or because he cares for the mansion. He's only there because his aunt needed a place to stash him for a few weeks (the petty cash in her pocketbook was running a bit thin). Still, now that he's here, he might as well serve a purpose, and that purpose is to be the traditional Gothic hero. Sort of.

Would You Still Call Me Superman?

The traditional Gothic hero is your run-of-the-mill hero dude. He's courageous, virtuous, and willing to do whatever it takes to save the maiden of the day. He might be extra intelligent and strong, and he might have some kind of a mystical artifact helping him out, but otherwise he's just an average guy with an above-average adventurous streak. no super powers or magical tricks here.

Luke is not that guy. His history of lying and petty thievery proves him to be anything but virtuous. His adventurous streak is limited to enjoying good food, better brandy, and a game of chess by a roaring fire. At one point, the ladies ask him to be their gallant knight, to "man the battlements" and go ask Mrs. Dudley for a cup of coffee (5.59). Luke goes but only after making his protests clearly known.

Hold us back.

Well, okay, Luke does mention several times that he would be willing to frighten away rabbits with a stick should they threaten Eleanor and Theodora (8.43). So, there's a courageous hero somewhere inside our dear Luke, right? Right?

Up, Up, and Away (Up the Stairway)

Yeah, well, even Luke must rise to the occasion and play the Gothic hero. When Eleanor climbs that iron stairway, she's in serious danger of shaking the fixture loose from its bolts and sending the whole thing crashing. With Arthur cowering behind the door with Mrs. Montague, it's up to Luke to climb up there and save her. And climb he does.

It's not a mad dash to the top filled with death-defying heroics and a total disregard for death. Instead, Luke moves slowly and sounds frightened when he speaks (9.27). When he finally reaches Eleanor, he complains that "it will only be [his] neck that gets broken" (9.36). Despite being anything but heroic, Luke proves the hero and saves Eleanor's life.

Heroic Fail

And then Luke and his maiden fair live happily ever after, having defeated the horrors of the Gothic world.

Yeah, right. That's a Gothic Romance would should end, but The Haunting of Hill House isn't the kind of novel to care about what it should do. Although he rescues her, Luke doesn't hook up with Eleanor because, as she makes perfectly clear, she's not into him in that way. She finds him kind of gibberishy (6.11).

(Does she really find him that silly, by the way? Or is she just afraid of her own romantic feelings for him?)

Even Luke's valiant rescue becomes an epic fail in the end. Luke saves Eleanor from the stairway, but he can't save Eleanor from herself. The self-destructive impulses that drive Eleanor up those stairs remain undefeated, and they push her onward, eventually leading her to drive her car into a tree. Although Luke could play the role of a hero, his character ultimately serves to show the limitations of such heroism. These heroes may be able to save a woman from an outward evil, but they can't save her from an evil that's corrupted her soul.

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