Study Guide

The Haunting of Hill House Sacrifice

By Shirley Jackson


This [hate] was owing largely to the eleven years she had spent caring for her invalid mother, which had left her with some proficiency as a nurse and an inability to face strong sunlight without blinking. (1.5)

Eleanor has sacrificed much of her life to care for her invalid mother, and this sacrifice has left Eleanor emotionally damaged. As for her love life… well, there's not much to say, really.

[…]; and the little girl glanced at her, and smiled a little subtle, dimpling, wholly comprehending smile, and shook her head stubbornly at the glass. Brave girl, Eleanor thought; wise, brave girl. (1.61)

Remember that whole "sacrifice is noble thing" we talked about? Here's the counter example. Eleanor thinks the little girl who is unwilling to sacrifice her desires at her mother's command is the truly brave one. You go, girl, right?

"Truly a congenial little group," Luke said approvingly. "Destined to be inseparable friends, in fact. A courtesan, a pilgrim, a princess, and a bullfighter. Hill House has surely never seen our like." (3.41)

How about a sacrifice of fact, huh? Everyone in the little group, except Dr. Montague, sacrifices the truth of their lives to present a fantasy reconstruction of their day-to-day. Wait, is that a sacrifice at all?

"There are no secret chambers in Hill House," the doctor said with finality. "Naturally, that possibility has been suggested before, and I think I may say with assurance that no such romantic devices exist here. But tomorrow—" (3.64)

Dr. Montague does a bit of sacrificing himself. You know those flights of fancy you might get from reading all those romantic, Gothic novels? Kick those to the curb, because Hill House is nothing like that.

"I had to look for weeks before I found my little stone lions on each corner of the mantel, and I have a white cat and my books and records and pictures. Everything has to be exactly the way I want it, because there's only me to use it; once I had a blue cup with stars painted on the inside; when you looked down into a cup of tea it was full of stars. I want a cup like that." (3.203)

Eleanor sacrificed her dreams for her mother. Now, desperate to have dreams again, she fills it with little tidbits from her journey to Hill House. She even takes that little girl's cup of stars.

"Come, of course," Eleanor said, looking at her own face in the mirror. You deserve it, she told herself, you have spent your life earning it. Theodora opened the door and said happily, "How pretty you look this morning, my Nell. This curious life agrees with you."

Eleanor smiled at her; the life clearly agreed with Theodora too. (5.5-6)

Eleanor hopes her sacrifices will yield dividends at Hill House—the love kind of dividends. Does sacrifice lead you to love? Does love happen because you're the kind of person who makes sacrifices?

"You have your own home," [Theodora] said. "You'll be glad enough to get back to it when the time comes, Nell my Nellie. I suppose we'll all be glad to get back home. What are you saying about those noises last night? I can't describe them." (8.28)

Theodora, like the girl with the cup of stars, will not sacrifice her dreams for anyone. Unfortunately for Eleanor, the trait she admired so much in the little girl has now turned against her in Theodora. Dreams clash with dreams in this showdown of, er, dreams.

"I am Eleanor," Theo said, "because I am wearing blue. I love my love with an E because she is ethereal. Her name is Eleanor, and she lives in expectation." (8.154)

Eleanor seems to have become a sacrifice once again. This time it's her personality that's been placed on the altar, slain for Theodora's word game. Theodora may just be playing, but for Eleanor, her sense of self is serious business.

"It's the only time anything's ever happened to me. I liked it." (9.89)

Eleanor takes the little girl's lesson to heart. She decides to demand what she wants out of life. Sure, what she wants is possibly a demon house, but hey, the heart wants what the heart wants.

In the unending, crashing second before the car hurled into the tree she thought clearly, Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why don't they stop me? (9.115)

In the end, the metaphorical sacrifice becomes a real one. Eleanor kills herself to stay at Hill House, but the question remains: did Eleanor sacrifice herself for Hill House or for herself? Also, is this truly a sacrifice? It seems as if Eleanor is doing this for attention. She doesn't want to actually go through with suicide; she wants someone to stop her and make everything all right again.

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