Themes

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Last Updated on January 15, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 545

The Immortality of Love

As the ghostly husband and wife wander through their old house, they take joy in seeing the places where they were so happy together in life. When they look upon their old bedroom, she says, “Here we slept,” and he replies, “Kisses without number.” They reflect on the little moments of love they enjoyed in the house when they were alive and rejoice in having been reunited in death. Though the ghostly couple has died, the memories of their love remain intact and allow them to—either literally or metaphorically—continue to inhabit the house that fostered their relationship.   

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Though the loving memories belong to the ghostly couple, the house takes on the role of memory keeper. Each room represents a fond moment from the couple’s lives, and it is through the physical presence of the house that the ghostly couple reminisce. Woolf also seems to suggest that the house has a life of its own, as its steady “pulse” reminds the inhabitants—both living and dead—that they and their “treasure” are “safe.” Though the “wind” and “rain” beat against the windows, the house protects the inhabitants, keeping them safe and warm. It is almost as if the house has absorbed the love that the ghostly couple shared and now helps shelter and protect the love of the living couple. Though their individual lives have ended, the ghostly couple is able to maintain a connection to the world through the love shared by the new inhabitants of their beloved home, suggesting that memory and emotion can live on after death in new forms.  

The Thin Barrier Between Life and Death

Though “A Haunted House” is far from a traditional ghost story, it does explore the question of how life and death interact. The ghosts in the story are portrayed as benign figures, more concerned with their happy reminiscence than with the house’s current inhabitants. The living couple is unable to see or interact with the ghosts directly, but they nonetheless follow the ghosts’ search for their “treasure.” 

So fine, so rare, coolly sunk beneath the surface the beam I sought always burnt behind the glass. Death was the glass; death was between us . . .

This metaphor encapsulates the story’s approach to life and death: the living and dead can only ever observe one another as if through glass, their interaction limited to shared spaces and experiences. Just as the ghostly couple once lived and loved in the house, the living couple partake in many of the same activities, such as reading in the garden. Through these mutual experiences, the couples are able to recognize and admire each other, seeing within their counterparts the “joy” of love.

However, the story also suggests that the “glass” barrier is not permanent. Just as death separates the ghostly couple from the living couple, it once separated the ghostly husband from his wife. In his grief over her death, he traveled the world, leaving behind the house and his wife’s memory. However, he eventually returned and, upon his own death, was finally able to pass through the barrier that kept them apart, suggesting that life and death are not so much separate states as they are sequential ones.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

“A Haunted House” employs several themes that became the focus of Virginia Woolf’s later fiction. The permanence of love, the difficulties of marriage, the inevitability of death, and the connections between all souls, living and dead, are concepts that Woolf treats with great complexity in the ten paragraphs of this short story, as well as in the many pages of her best-known novels. She attempts to uncover the profound, unspoken aspects of human relationships.

Love endures in “A...

(The entire section contains 971 words.)

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