Study Guide

The Haunting of Hill House Women and Femininity

By Shirley Jackson

Women and Femininity

If you asked us to summarize The Haunting of Hill House's view of women and femininity in a single phrase, then we'd say, "Are you crazy?"

The women in this novel come in a lot of varieties, and they're all a little off-kilter. There's Eleanor, a repressed, loving, narcissistic, but ultimately tragic female figure. Then we have Theodora, a liberal free spirit who may or may not be a lesbian. And let's not forget Carrie, Mrs. Montague, Mrs. Dudley, Mrs. Sanderson, Eleanor's mother, that little old lady, and even the waitress. There's a lot going on with these women, and they might be a big clue for us as we try to figure out what on earth is going on at Hill House.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Which character do you think represents a traditional view of femininity? Which female character do you think most breaks free of that model? Comparing these two characters, what can you say about this theme in the novel?
  2. Why do you think women seem to be Hill House's victims of choice?
  3. How do you see the role of mothers being represented in the novel? Don't forget to count characters who aren't actually mothers but who take on mother-like roles (think of Mrs. Montague, Mrs. Sanderson, and Mrs. Dudley, for instance).
  4. Why do you think we get so many hints that Eleanor and Theodora may be sexually attracted to one another? What purpose does this serve? Does it alter the way you read this theme in the novel?

Chew on This

Dr. Montague and Luke never experience any horrors without Eleanor present. The one exception is the dog they chased, which could easily have been just a dog.

All the mothers in the novel are either dead (Eleanor's mother) or absent (Luke's mother). They are also all nameless. At novel's end, Hill House takes Eleanor's life and her name, suggesting that she has moved into some type of motherhood.

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