Study Guide

The Haunting of Hill House Freedom and Confinement

By Shirley Jackson

Freedom and Confinement

The journey itself was her positive action, her destination vague, unimagined, perhaps nonexistent. (1.49)

Like any self-respecting American in the 1950s, Eleanor finds her freedom behind the wheel of a car, windows down and hair blowing in the breeze. Is the car really a symbol for freedom? Where is it taking her?

…But the cottage was far behind, and it was time to look for her new road, so carefully charted by Dr. Montague.

"Turn left onto Route 5 going west," his letter said, and, as efficiently and promptly as though he had been guiding her from some spot far away, moving her car with controls in his hands, it was done; […]. (1.65-66)

But some confinement comes with the freedom you find even behind the well. Sure, Eleanor's on the open road, but she's restricted to following Dr. Montague's instructions. The whole scene hints that Eleanor's still confined by the expectations of others—first her mother and sister, now Dr. Montague.

I am like a small creature swallowed whole by a monster, she thought, and the monster feels my tiny little movements inside. (2.29)

Is this not the perfect quote for describing being locked up in a house you don't want to be in? Seriously awesome description.

"The gates are locked. Hill House has a reputation for insistent hospitality; it seemingly dislikes letting its guests get away. The last person who tried to leave Hill House in darkness—it was eighteen years ago, I grant you—was killed at the turn in the driveway, where his horse bolted and crushed him against the big tree" (3.78)

Hill House offers a certain amount of freedom in its confinement. Sure, you have the option to leave, but it really wants you to stay and have a sleepover.

"Anyway," Eleanor said, "I hate having things done to me." (4.162)

Eleanor's confinement is both a physical and emotional one. In fact, as this scene shows, the two are closely related. An emotional cage can restrain someone physically, and a physical cage can restrain someone emotionally. What kind of cage is Hill House?

"[…] we were frightened, certainly, and found the experience unpleasant while it was going on, and yet I cannot remember that I felt in any physical danger […]." (5.25)

The freedom within confinement trend continues in the house's paranormal manifestations. It's not like Hill House holds the people down and forces them to listen to its little horror show, but the mental sense of wrongness confines the inhabitants all the same.

[…]; I will find a little house, or maybe an apartment like hers. I will see her every day, and we will go searching together for lovely things—gold-trimmed dishes, and a white cat, and a sugar Easter egg, and a cup of stars. I will not be frightened or alone any more; I will call myself just Eleanor. (8.71)

Eleanor's freedom comes from her fantasies, in which she projects herself out of the constraints of her current life situation. Is that real freedom?

Eleanor sat, looking down at her hands, and listened to the sounds of the house. Somewhere upstairs a door swung quietly shut; a bird touched the tower briefly and flew off. In the kitchen the stove was settling and cooling, with little soft creakings. (8.157)

At this point, it becomes almost impossible to tell if Eleanor is free or confined in Hill House. On the one hand, she seems freer than ever before, with her heightened sense of awareness and all. But that awareness only comes from within the confines of her home—and what a "home" it is.

[…]; wake up, [Eleanor] thought, pounding on the doctor's door; I dare you to open your door and come out to see me dancing in the hall of Hill House. (9.8)

Eleanor wants the others to see her newly won freedom in Hill House, and it simply couldn't wait until morning.

I am really doing it, I am really doing this all by myself, now, at last; this is me, I am really really really doing it by myself. (9.114)

Even at the end of the novel, we get no resolution for the problem of freedom and confinement. We might be tempted to say that this suicidal act is the ultimate act of freedom on Eleanor's part. But then again, it could simply prove how much power Hill House holds over her.

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