The Haunting of Hill House Essay - Critical Evaluation

Shirley Jackson

Critical Evaluation

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House displays the classic gothic style, with its setting (a dark and mysterious mansion), suspenseful atmosphere, active legends (the existence of a curse or evil presence within the house), omens and portents (sensed by Eleanor), supernatural events, overwrought emotion, women in distress, women threatened by a tyrannical male, metonymy of horror or gloom, and vocabulary (agony, alarm, anxious, apprehension, breathless, dread, frantic, resentment, shriek, surprise). The house itself is a character in the novel, seemingly alive.

Another element giving the novel a sense of gothic horror is the unreliable narrator, Eleanor. Because of her inability to tell the truth, Eleanor is unreliable—she frequently lies to other characters and then cannot be sure why she told the lies—and her inability to separate her own feelings from those she attributes to the house. However, there are enough shared experiences (such as the destruction of Theo’s room and clothes, the banging sounds, and the cold spot in the nursery) to make it clear that not every happening comes from Eleanor’s imagination. Readers, though, wonder if Eleanor is the cause of these happenings, just as she perhaps had caused a rain of stones to fall on her house for three days when she was an adolescent.

Eleanor’s psychological state is further questioned when she repeatedly speaks of suicide. She also speaks of surrendering to...

(The entire section is 411 words.)