The Haunting Of Hill House Summary

Shirley Jackson

The Haunting Of Hill House

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The Haunting Of Hill House Summary

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The Haunting of Hill House,by Shirley Jackson, is, as the title suggests, a novel in the horror genre. It takes place over the course of one week in a rural area of America during the middle of the twentieth century. The book begins with Dr. John Montague, who studies the paranormal, though his background is in anthropology and psychology. After a lifelong search for a haunted house, he finds Hill House, and plans to conduct a study to prove the existence of the paranormal. However, to complete his work, he needs assistants, and he comes up with a list of twelve possible candidates. He writes to them, inviting them to come and stay at Hill House. He ends up with three: Theodora, Luke Sanderson, and Eleanor Vance.

Eleanor experienced some paranormal activity as a child, Theodora tested well in psychic labs, and Luke’s family owns Hill House. They sent him along to ensure that no one steals anything from the house while they’re there—but his aunt has another motive, mainly keeping him out of trouble for a little while. Theodora is prompted to travel to Hill House to escape a fight with her roommate, and Eleanor is seeking adventure and release from a life she doesn’t want to lead. After spending most of her young adult years looking after her ailing mother, Eleanor now feels trapped at her sister’s house. As soon as the guests arrive at Hill House, they can tell that there’s a malevolent essence there.

When Eleanor arrives, she meets two villagers from Hillsdale who act as caretakers at Hill House. Their names are Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, and they try to warn her to leave and tell her that if she screams in the night, no one will hear her. Eleanor is frightened, but doesn’t leave. Theodora, who goes by Theo for short, arrives shortly after. She’s cheerful and that assuages Eleanor’s fears as they decide to explore the mansion. Something frightens them so they run back to the house, where they find Luke and Dr. Montague. Dr. Montague reveals that he chose Eleanor because of the paranormal experience of her youth—a rain of stones—and this upsets her because she believes she had brought it on.

Starting on the second night, Theo, Eleanor, Luke, and Dr. Montague get little sleep thanks to supernatural activity within the house. They’re delighted by this evidence during the day, and often frightened at night. Over the course of the first few days, a complex lovers’ triangle develops. Theo and Eleanor are both interested in Luke. Simultaneously, Luke and Theo are both interested in Eleanor. Both Theo and Luke are seeking a short-term fling, whereas Eleanor is seeking a lifelong relationship. Eleanor tells Theo she intends to go home with her after the summer. To detach from Eleanor, Theo takes her interest in Luke up several notches, resulting in Eleanor’s jealousy.

The joy of the day is overshadowed when Eleanor is mentioned in a message that seems to magically appear on the walls. Then, there is a paranormal attack in Theo’s room. The room, and her belongings, are damaged. Luke, Theo, and Eleanor begin to feel unsafe. Dr. Montague attempts to calm their fears,but tells them that while ghosts can’t harm them, poltergeists can. This explanation does little to assuage their concerns. Theo’s and Eleanor’s fast friendship rapidly unwinds as Theo—with the others’ support—suggest that Eleanor is the cause of these more recent and frightening phenomena. Theo goes further to say that Eleanor is just doing it to get attention and revenge against her, for not wanting Eleanor to move in with her.

The evil that lurks in Hill House thrives on the growing enmity between the two women. In fact, Hill House seems to be waging psychological warfare on Eleanor and Theo, driving a wedge between them. The behavior, thoughts, and feelings of these two women eerily echo the relationship between the Crain sisters, two little girls who grew up in Hill House decades ago. The Crain sisters also had a falling out over a man and it seems at times that the resentment Eleanor feels is really the resentment of the eldest Crain sister. The older sister, like Eleanor, became an old maid after losing her beau to the younger sister. The vindictive and painful emotions of this family battle still reside within Hill House and feed Eleanor’s own sense of loss and thirst for revenge. The reader cannot be sure whether it is Eleanor or Hill House that is truly responsible for the increasingly threatening manifestations. In Eleanor, Hill House has found a perfect vehicle for reliving the tragic struggles of the past.

When Dr. Montague notices how deeply ensnared Eleanor has become by the ghosts of the house, he insists that she leave for her own safety. Hill House, however, having claimed Eleanor, has no intention of letting her go. As Eleanor drives away from the house, she feels compelled to speed up and turn her car towards an ancient tree at the bend in the driveway. Feeling triumphant, Eleanor thinks she’s discovered a way to stay at Hill House despite having been so rudely kicked out. Only in the final moment, before her car smashes against the tree, does Eleanor’s lucidity return. She wonders why she is doing such a disastrous thing, but it is already too late. Hill House has claimed yet another victim to add to the long list of mysterious deaths and supposed suicides which have taken place on the grounds.