Study Guide

The Haunting of Hill House Family

By Shirley Jackson


Don't do it, Eleanor told the little girl; insist on your cup of stars; once [your family has] trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don't do it […]. (1.61)

Eleanor's issues with her family take the stage early in the novel. It seems like Eleanor is focused on this little girl and her cup of stars, but that's just the surface layer. This whole scene is really about Eleanor and her own family problems.

Why, [Eleanor] thought, there are other people coming; I am not going to be here all alone. Almost laughing, she ran across the room and into the hall, to look down the staircase into the hallway below. (2.30)

Ah, family. Eleanor can't live with them, but she finds the home a horribly lonesome place without them. Thankfully, people are coming to Hill House to act as Eleanor's surrogate family. Poor souls don't know what they're getting themselves into.

"I always had colds all winter long. My mother made me wear woolen stockings."

"My mother made my brother take me to dances, and I used to curtsy like mad. My brother still hates me." (2.133-134)

This quote connects the theme of "Family" to the theme of "Women and Femininity." Sure, Theodora and Eleanor are totally lying about the things their mothers made them do. More importantly, they're bonding over how awful their mothers were, which is either sweet or sad (your call). Why are mothers such a negative force in this novel?

"You are three willful, spoiled children who are prepared to nag me for your bedtime story."

Theodora giggled, and the doctor nodded at her happily. (3.90)

Just in case you thought we were reading too much into the whole "surrogate family" thing, here's this quote to drive the point home. Yes, Dr. Montague jokes around with this quote, but it's also a sly nudge, nudge, wink, wink from the novel, too.

Mrs. Sanderson let me rummage through a box of family papers, and so I have seen some of the letters Miss Crain received from her sister, and in all of them those dishes stand out as a recurrent sore subject. (3.130)

The importance of family is layered like a cake or an onion or another… layered… um, thing. The argument between the Crain sisters over the dishes echoes a similar argument Eleanor and her sister had over the car. In each case, it doesn't end well for the family. Another question to consider is why these family squabbles are so petty. Dishes, people? Dishes?

"When Luke and I are called outside, and you two are kept imprisoned inside, doesn't it begin to seem"—and his voice was very quiet—"doesn't it begin to seem that the intention is, somehow, to separate us?" (4.296)

Hill House puts itself between the surrogate family. In this way, Hill House is the opposite of a home, which should be a place where families come together. Is Hill House responsible, or is it the negativity coming from Eleanor that is driving people apart?

"[…]: 'Honor thy father and thy mother, Daughter, authors of thy being, upon whom a heavy charge has been laid, that they lead their child in innocence and righteousness along the fearful narrow path to everlasting bliss, and render her up at last to her God a pious and a virtuous soul; […]'" (6.18)

In the novel, parents are often portrayed as domineering control freaks. Hugh Crain tries to control his daughter by means of horrifying bedtime stories, and Eleanor's mother controlled her daughter's life by means of her illness. Even Mrs. Sanderson tries to control Luke's life, and she's just an aunt.

"What do you want?" Arthur read.

"Mother," Mrs. Montague read back.



"Where is your mother?"


"Where is your home?"

"Lost. Lost. Lost. […]" (7.125-132)

Here we link the themes of "The Home" and "Family." The home and the family (mother) become one, and the "ghost's" sense of loss comes from the disappearance of each.

"You [Dr. Montague] and these young people may rest, of course. Perhaps you do not feel the urgency which I [Mrs. Montague] do, the terrible compulsion to aid whatever poor souls wander restlessly here; perhaps you find me foolish in my sympathy for them, perhaps I am even ludicrous in your eyes because I can spare a tear for a lost abandoned soul, left without any helping hand; pure love—" (8.94)

Mrs. Montague joins the surrogate family as a comedic type of mother figure. She acts out of a sense of love (or so she says), but you get the feeling she's doing more harm than good for the occupants of Hill House. Perhaps Hugh Crain and Eleanor's mother were similarly misguided. Or maybe they were just jerks.

For a minute [Eleanor] could not remember who they were (had they been guests of hers in the house of the stone lions? Dining at her long table in the candlelight? Had she met them at the inn, over the tumbling stream? Had one of them come riding down a green hill, banners flying? Had one of them run beside her in the darkness? and then she remembered, and they fell into place where they belong) […]. (9.18)

Eleanor loses her identity as part of a surrogate family and gives herself wholly to Hill House. This quote complicates the link between "The Home" and "Family." Here, the home seems at odds with the family, requiring Eleanor to forsake them for it. Never an easy answer with this book. Never.

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