The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In The Haunting of Hill House, a concealed evil is both psychically and physically aroused by the presence of a small group of people brought to a haunted house by a researcher of the paranormal, Dr. John Montague. Montague recruits three others to aid him in his analysis of what appears to be a genuine haunted house. The first, a lonely young woman named Eleanor Vance, had spent eleven years caring for an invalid mother whom she hated and who recently died. Theodora is an attractive artist with strong psychic gifts. Luke Sanderson, a cad with an instinct for self-preservation, is the nephew of Hill Houses current owner. Eleanor finds out that she was chosen by Montague because of a psychic experience she had when she was twelve years old: For three days, a shower of stones had fallen on her home.

As the first to arrive at Hill House, Eleanor immediately is struck by the vile and diseased nature of the mansion. Architecturally, Hill House is ruled by the principle of clashing disharmony; fractionally wrong in all of its dimensions, it is filled with dark woodwork, enclosed rooms, doors that swing shut, rickety staircases, and hideously monochromatic rooms. During the first evening there, Montague relates the story of the family feud and the string of mysterious deaths that constitute the eighty-year history of the house. Despite her clear sense of the pervasive evil emanating from the dwelling, Eleanor feels, for the first time, that she belongs...

(The entire section is 526 words.)

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Haunting of Hill House is a subtly eerie gothic horror story of an introverted young woman’s efforts to free herself from her personal prison and of the tragedy that results. It is brief, with only a few major incidents, although many details and symbols are woven together to create an emotionally complex story. Shirley Jackson uses the trappings of the genre to create a realistic psychological study of the troubled heroine and her sense of alienation.

The ghosts of Hill House remain offstage as the novel relies on suggestion for its shudders, with almost all of the story revealed through Eleanor’s eyes. After an argument with her sister over the use of their jointly owned automobile, Eleanor makes a bid for freedom in a trip to Hill House. She has been summoned to participate in a study of hauntings there because her home was pelted with a rain of stones when she was young, an incident for which she may have been responsible through telekinesis. Dr. Montague has also summoned a young woman known only as Theodora, who has exhibited strong extrasensory powers. Joining them is Luke, the reckless nephew of Hill House’s owner.

Upon their arrival, Theodora and Eleanor seem on the verge of becoming friends as they engage in humorous conversation following a meeting with the rigid housekeeper, Mrs. Dudley. It is a friendship the lonely Eleanor desperately needs, which is exhibited in her fabrication of a life for herself that incorporates elements that she saw on her trip, including stone lions and a cup decorated with stars.

As she and Theo explore the strangely designed Hill House, Eleanor develops a real feeling of happiness in spite of her eerie surroundings. “Journeys end in lovers meeting,” she constantly repeats to herself, indicating that she has found a sense of belonging.

In a fireside talk, Dr. Montague explains Hill House’s origins and tragedies. It was built by Hugh Crain as a country home, but his first wife died in a carriage wreck before ever seeing the house. His second wife died in an unexplained fall. The home was eventually left to his two...

(The entire section is 872 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Jackson employs chillingly effective Gothic ghost story writing skills. Using the central symbol and setting of Hill House, she has its...

(The entire section is 122 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Through a downright frightening revitalization of the old Gothic haunted house story, Jackson develops in this novel her interests in...

(The entire section is 197 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The wealth of previous examples of Gothic ghost stories to which Jackson adds her novel reaches back to at least Roman times. Works such as...

(The entire section is 128 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The film The Haunting of Hill House, starring Julie Harris and Claire Bloom, premiered in 1963, and it now is often rerun on cable or...

(The entire section is 83 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Carpenter, Lynette. “Domestic Comedy, Black Comedy, and Real Life: Shirley Jackson, a Woman Writer.” In Faith of a (Woman) Writer, edited by Alice Kessler-Harris and William McBrien. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Friedman, Lenemaja. Shirley Jackson. Boston: Twayne, 1975.

Hall, Joan Wylie. Shirley Jackson: A Study of Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993.

Hattenhauer, Darryl. Shirley Jackson’s American Gothic. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

Jefferson, Margo. “Shirley Jackson, Novelist or Witch?” Vogue 178, no. 7 (July, 1988): 70.

Kittredge, Mary. “The Other Side of Magic: A Few Remarks About Shirley Jackson.” In Discovering Modern Horror Fiction, edited by Darrell Schweitzer. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, 1985.

Oppenheimer, Judy. Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1988.