Study Guide

The Haunting of Hill House The Home

By Shirley Jackson

The Home

No live organism can continue for love to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within […]. (1.1)

Right out of the gate, we get a sense that the portrayal of home won't be shiningly positive in this novel. Not only is the place isolated, it's also not even sane in the membrane—or whatever the domicile equivalent of the membrane is.

I would never have suspected it of myself, [Eleanor] thought, laughing still; everything is different, I am a new person, very far from home. (1.95)

The home limits Eleanor's identity and her ability to be herself. Unable to re-imagine herself in her home, she must escape its confines to try something new. Please note the irony that she's escaping to a new home.

"It's harder to burn down a house than you think," Luke said. (3.98)

Oh absolutely. First, you have to get the fire burning hot enough, and then there are the insurance companies to deal with, and—oh, maybe we were supposed to take this quote figuratively, not literally. Even then, it can be really hard to destroy your house, since it is your home, after all. Where else are you supposed to go?

"And waiting," the doctor confirmed. "Essentially," he went on slowly, "the evil is the house itself, I think. It has enchained and destroyed its people and their lives, it is a place of contained ill will. […]." (3.142)

Here, the house becomes personified as an active agent, a place with free will seeking to confine and then destroy its residents. As the novel continues, the question of whether the home is truly haunted or whether the people in it are self-destructive is left open-ended. Wouldn't want to make it easy, would we?

"Promise me absolutely that you will leave, as fast as you can, if you begin to feel the house catching at you." (4.220)

Dr. Montague acts as a good mentor. He's well aware of the home's power over people and doesn't want to see his new friends succumb to its deadly power. Like any well-intended warning in horror fiction, this one will go unheeded.

"We are on a desert island," Luke said.

"I can't picture any world but Hill House," Eleanor said. (5.103-104)

The home begins to consume its residents. They can't even imagine what life would be like beyond it, and there's some pretty awesome life to be had out there: New York, London, Tokyo, and Disney World, to name just a few options. But for the residents of Hill House, the home is becoming the end-all and be-all.

Arthur cleared his throat. "What do you want?" he read.

"Home."

"Do you want to go home?" And Theodora shrugged comically at Eleanor.

"Want to be home."

"What are you doing here?"

"Waiting."

"Waiting for what?"

"Home." (7.106-113)

Arthur and Mrs. Montague recite their dialogue with the ghosts of Hill House by way of planchette. Is this need for home truly coming from the ghosts, or is it simply Arthur and Mrs. Montague tapping into the ghosts of our human psyche? Could both possibilities be true? Man, this novel sure is a trip.

I am disappearing inch by inch into this house, I am going apart a little bit at a time because all this noise is breaking me; why are the others frightened? (7.183)

Eleanor recognizes that Hill House is consuming her as if she were a dysfunctional soufflé. The house even appears to be savoring the meal. Yet the question tacked to the end here hints, once again, that maybe this is all in Eleanor's mind. The others need not fear what's only in her mind.

"Back with you, back home. I"—and Eleanor smiled wryly—"am going to follow you home."

Theodora started. "Why?" she asked blankly.

"I never had anyone to care about," Eleanor said, wondering where she had heard someone say something like this before. "I want to be someplace where I belong." (8.23-25)

This quote is gut-wrenchingly sad on many levels. On the one hand, Theodora's selfishness blocks Eleanor from finding a place where she fits (very sad). On the other hand, Eleanor's inability to find a home within herself is perhaps more to blame for her dissatisfaction than anything else (super sad).

No stone lions for me, [Eleanor] thought, no oleanders; I have broken the spell of Hill House and somehow come inside. I am home, she thought, and stopped in wonder at the thought. I am home, I am home, she thought; now to climb. (9.15)

Eleanor has given up on obtaining the home of her dreams, the one she fantasized about on the road. Hill House has captured her in within its walls. Are we to feel sorry for her, seeing her as Hill House's latest victim? Was this inevitable? Was the home always going to trap her? Did she merely substitute stone lions and oleanders for Hill House? We can't answer these questions with any certainty, but maybe that's the whole point.

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