The Haunting of Hill House

by Shirley Jackson

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Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series The Haunting of Hill House Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439

While The Haunting of Hill House uses supernatural ambiguity, its primary focus is a study of Eleanor and her quest for a place to belong. Above all, the novel is an examination of alienation and its shattering effects. All events revolve around Eleanor and her sense of isolation and imprisonment. Her existence has always been one of bondage to other people. Her mother is exchanged for an overbearing sister who refuses Eleanor use of the car that she helped purchase. En route to Hill House, Eleanor fantasizes about taking up residence in a large house guarded by the stone lions and dreams of a cup of stars. In spite of Hill House’s loud noises and other fears, she feels at home there because she has found a sense of community.

Eleanor pays a high price to break free of the bonds in which life has placed her. The very car that was both instrument and symbol of her escape from her sister becomes the instrument of her death and the tool that makes her an irrevocable part of Hill House. She frees herself from her sister and the stifling existence that she has known only to become trapped in Hill House. She has fulfilled her belief that journeys end with lovers meeting. As the book concludes with a repeat of the opening paragraph, Jackson reveals the grim message that even in her place of belonging, Eleanor still walks alone, imprisoned again.

While supernatural considerations are secondary in the book, they are significant in the study of Eleanor. Questions arise of whether ghosts are at play or all the events are generated by Eleanor’s psychic abilities. Just as the rain of stones from her past may have been created telepathically by Eleanor, such events as the eerie writing and the disappearing red stains on Theo’s clothing may have been generated by Eleanor’s needs, with Hill House serving only as a conduit.

Eventually, it becomes apparent that just as things are not right in Hill House, where the angles are odd and disturbing, things are not right inside Eleanor. She is burdened by guilt and often lost within herself, alienated much like the Crain sister’s companion whose suicide she mimics. When Eleanor comes to Hill House, a dangerous combination develops that leads to tragedy.

Although Eleanor Vance is thirty-two, the novel is a pertinent work for young adults since her struggle reflects the quest on which all adolescents embark for a sense of belonging, identity, and independence. It illustrates the dire results when that need is not fulfilled and suggests that often true freedom is impossible.

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