Study Guide

The Haunting of Hill House Dissatisfaction

By Shirley Jackson


She had taken to wondering lately, during these swift-counted years, what had been done with all those wasted summer days; how could she have spent them so wantonly? I am foolish; I am grown up now and know the values of things. (1.44)

Eleanor's story starts with a typical display of dissatisfaction. She's all grown up and upset that she spent her years the way she did. Let that be a lesson to us all. Make every day count, or you may find yourself the main character in a Gothic horror story one day.

It's awful, she thought, unwilling to move, since motion might imply acceptance, a gesture of moving in, it's awful and I don't want to stay; but there was nowhere else to go […] (2.27)

Eleanor came to Hill House dissatisfied with her life, and now she is dissatisfied with Hill House. There's just no pleasing this one.

They were all silent, looking into the fire, lazy after their several journeys, and Eleanor thought, I am the fourth person in this room; I am one of them; I belong. (3.24)

Or is there? Here, we see Eleanor in a rare moment of satisfaction, and that satisfaction comes from the fact that she feels like part of the group, part of a family.

"So did I. If you are not ready in three minutes I will come in and drown you. I want my breakfast." (4.11)

Theodora's hunger for life appears as an actual hunger. But notice how she jokes about the situation. Hungry? Yes. Dissatisfied with her hunger? We don't think so.

[…] I have been waiting for it for so long. Abandoning a lifelong belief that to name happiness is to dissipate it, she smiled at herself in the mirror and told herself silently, You are happy, Eleanor, you have finally been given a part of your measure of happiness. (5.1)

Eleanor's dissatisfaction continues to ebb away as she spends more and more time in Hill House. But what's the source of this new satisfaction? Is it the friends she's met. or is it her strengthening bond with Hill House itself?

[…] "You must be a very lonely person." All I want is to be cherished, [Eleanor] thought, and here I am talking gibberish with a selfish man. "You must be very lonely indeed." (6.11)

Eleanor begins to show signs of dissatisfaction again. This time, she's feeling the reverse of her previous satisfaction. She used to be so happy to be a part of the group, but now she loathes those around her. Maybe satisfaction isn't a single continuous state that just goes on and on without any work?

"You know perfectly well, John, that those who have passed beyond expect to see us happy and smiling; they want to know that we are thinking of them lovingly. The spirits dwelling in this house may be actually suffering because they are aware that you are afraid of them." (7.29)

Mrs. Montague is absolutely correct about the suffering… but not really. She thinks the souls suffering in Hill House are ghosts and poltergeists and whatnot. But it's the souls of the people in the house—the ones sitting right next to her—who are actually suffering.

Eleanor smiled placidly. "I've never been wanted anywhere," she said. (8.33)

For us, this is the big one, the quote that reveals the core of Eleanor's character and her dissatisfaction with life. Underline it or note it or something. Homeless and unwanted? We'd be pretty unhappy, too.

"You [Luke] will probably turn up as an earnest young psychic researcher. And I will be a lady of undeniable gifts but dubious reputation." (8.122)

Theodora and Luke create fantasies about their lives and wonder what fantasies will appear in Dr. Montague's book. Are these fantasies the result of their dissatisfaction with something in their lives?

"Perhaps Arthur had better drive her back to the city. Arthur could see that she gets there safely."

"Gets where?" Eleanor shook her head at them, feeling her lovely heavy hair around her face.

"Gets where?" she asked happily. (9.67-68)

Eleanor is crushed by dissatisfaction here. She has no home amongst her friends and family, and now she's getting the boot from the only physical home she has. Eleanor's come full circle in dissatisfaction (check out our "What's Up With the Ending?" section for more on that).

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