Study Guide

The Haunting of Hill House The Supernatural

By Shirley Jackson

The Supernatural

She sat back against the car seat and closed her eyes. Hill House, [Eleanor] thought, you're as hard to get into as heaven. (1.111)

Before she even crosses the threshold, Eleanor compares Hill House to something supernatural. She also compares it to a place you need to die to get into. Hmm.

Around them the house steadied and located them, above them the hills slept watchfully, small eddies of air and sound and movement stirred and waited and whispered, and the center of consciousness was somehow the small space where they stood, four separated people, and looked trustingly at one another. (3.16)

Writers personify animals, trees, and even rain clouds all the time. Somehow, it's extra creepy when they personify houses. Somehow, it's extra, extra creepy when those houses come to life to find people stomping through them like parasites.

"I assure you," the doctor said, "that Hill House will be quiet tonight. There is a pattern to these things, as though psychic phenomena were subject to laws of a very particular sort." (3.75)

We get the first hint that the psychic phenomena in the book might not be all that supernatural. The pattern Dr. Montague speaks of might all be in the mind of the observer. On the other hand, maybe the afterlife has some strict on-the-job guidelines.

"What it was like before then, whether its personality was molded by the people who lived here, or the things they did, or whether it was evil from its start are all questions I cannot answer." (3.91)

Dr. Montague considers possible explanations for the supernatural forces of Hill House. None of them are easy to pin down. No vampires, zombies, or even Frankenstein monsters here to make things easy for us.

"The house. It watches every move you make." And then, "My own imagination, of course." (3.170)

See? Even the characters living in Hill House can't make up their minds about whether the supernatural occurrences are real or imaginary. What chance does the reader have?

"Could it be," [Luke] asked the doctor, "that what people have been assuming were supernatural manifestations were really only the result of a slight loss of balance in the people live here?" (4.97)

On the surface, Luke talks about the house's odd architecture and about how the whole place is slightly tilted in one direction instead of being perfectly square. But, perhaps, the "off-balanced" nature of the place has more to do with their psychological states.

"God God," Eleanor said, flinging herself out of bed and across the room to stand shuddering in a corner, "God God—whose hand was I holding?" (5.191)

This is easily one of the most haunting "supernatural" scenes in the novel: the ghostly laughing, the crying children, the paranormal handholding. Was this all in Eleanor's head? We sure hope not, because, boy, what a head to be in.

"Planchette has a control named Merrigot," she explained, "and Merrigot takes a genuine personal interest in Arthur; brings him word from relatives, and so on."

"Not a fatal illness, you understand," Arthur said gravely. "Have to send flowers, of course, but Merrigot is most reassuring." (7.97-98)

Notice how we have never been given the name Merrigot before now. This strongly suggests that Arthur and Mrs. Montague are full of bull, doesn't it? On the other hand, Dr. Montague never gave us a name before now, either. Is Merrigot possibly the young woman who hanged herself from the tower? Or the older Crain sister?

None of them heart it, [Eleanor] thought with joy; nobody heard it but me. (8.173)

When the others stop hearing the supernatural elements of Hill House, Eleanor assumes it's because the house has chosen her and not them. At the same time, she seems to have chosen the house. That gives us an idea for a TV show: House Hunters Paranormal.

Poor house, Eleanor thought, I had forgotten Eleanor […]. (9.10)

Notice how the house has possessed Eleanor. She begins to separate from her own mind, even referring to herself in the third-person. So, how do you perform an exorcism when you're possessed by a house? Consecrated wrecking ball?

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