Study Guide

The Haunting of Hill House Freedom and Confinement

By Shirley Jackson

Freedom and Confinement

Like "Ebony and Ivory" before them, freedom and confinement live together in perfect disharmony.

Wait, are those the lyrics? Maybe not, but it remains true for The Haunting of Hill House. We say they live together because Eleanor can't seem to obtain freedom without confronting some form of confinement. Hill House was supposed to be Eleanor's path to freedom, but the house confines Eleanor to hallways haunted by the memory of her mother.

Eventually, Eleanor loses her ability to distinguish between freedom and confinement, and at that point, she begins to experience the disharmony of Hill House. At the novel's conclusion, Eleanor's final, free act confines her to Hill House forever.

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. Do you think any character finds freedom by the novel's end? If so, who, and in what way? If not, explain why you read the novel this way.
  2. Mrs. Dudley seems free to come and go from Hill House as she pleases. Do you think Mrs. Dudley is free of the house's confining spell, or do you see her as trapped in a different way from the others?
  3. Which architectural traits of Hill House play into the theme of freedom? What about confinement?

Chew on This

Family is a source of confinement in the novel—perhaps the source of confinement.

The only characters who are able to break the cycle of freedom and confinement are the novel's bachelors, Luke and three-time widower Hugh Crain.

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