“Fear is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishment of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.” -Dr. John Montague.
An overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting; a shuddering fear.
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is an intriguing tale of horror. But, for me, the horror didn’t lie with the house. It was engrained in Eleanor. This story is a perfect example of Vogler’s, The Hero’s Journey.
1. Ordinary World:
Eleanor; dismissive, quiet, sheltered. She has spent the majority of her life caring for others and not truly giving herself a purpose.
2. Call to adventure:
She receives a letter inviting her to an unfamiliar place for an unconventional study. Her presence was requested.
3. Refusal of the Call:
Eleanor is not scared of Hill House, but instead unsure. She wonders what it will be like, what will be expected of her. Who she’ll meet. When she stops at the café in Hillsdale it’s not for any other reason than to prolong (perhaps procrastinate) her fantasies. “I am more than halfway there. Journey’s end, she thought, and far back in her mind, sparkling like the stream, a tag end of a tune danced in her head, bringing distantly a word or so; ‘In delay there lies no plenty.’”(pg. 22).
4. Meeting with the mentor:
One might think Dr. Montague fits as Eleanor’s main source of guidance, but I would actually tag Theodora as Eleanor’s first mentor. I’m interpreting the word mentor loosely and not referring to it in its typical definition. Theodora is all the things Eleanor wants to be, wishes she had always been. She feels connected to the enigma that is Theo. Theodora says, “Would you let them separate us now? Now that we’ve found out we’re cousins?” (pg. 55). As the story progresses, Theo’s true colors start to seep through and at first it doesn’t change Eleanor’s view of her new friend. It’s the quintessential dominant/recessive friendship. Her desire to leave Hill House with Theo is stronger than her desire to really be herself. It isn’t until the house truly claims Eleanor the Hill House becomes her second and final mentor. Hill House is what guides Eleanor to her purpose. Or so she thinks.
5. Crossing the First Threshold:
As it is, The Haunting of Hill House is a slow paced novel. I like to think for Eleanor, her first cross into the supernatural world was on page 146 when the group finds writing on the wall: HELP ELEANOR COME HOME. This was the start to Eleanor’s fall down the rabbit hole. The house was trying to tell her and everyone else that Eleanor had a place. It’s obscure as to exactly where that is at this point in the story, but it’s a point of no return for Eleanor.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies:
Dr. Montague, Theodora and Luke offer many tests for Eleanor. The house itself can be seen as an ally or enemy. It all depends on how the reader interprets the motivations of the house. In many ways I like to think the house was an ally for Eleanor. She was a lost soul and it seemed that Hill House was a procurer of such. I also think Eleanor was her own worst enemy at times and at points, as a reader, I kept asking myself if certain conversations or situations we actually happening OR if they were in her own mind. Perhaps Hill House’s influence.
Throughout the story, Hill House isn’t the main theme. It’s really Eleanor’s search for belonging. She latches on to Theo, loving and hating her beautiful friend, she desires to be with her. The house pulls the two away from each other, however knowing that Eleanor should never leave. Eleanor tries different ways to make her place with Theo, but to no avail.
Eleanor attempts suicide.
“For a moment she could not remember who they were (had they been guests of hers in the house of the stone lions? Had she met them at the inn, over the tumbling stream? Had one of them come riding down a green hill, banners flying? Had one of them run beside her in the darkness? And then she remembered and they fell into place where they belonged), and she hesitated, clinging to the railing. They were so small , so ineffectual. They stood far below on the stone floor and pointed at her; they called to her, and their voices were urgent and far away.”
Hill House had taken over Eleanor. Hill House wanted her to “come home.”
Her life was her reward. She was almost taken by the call of the house, but she was able to ward it off if only momentarily.
10. The Road Back
11. Resurrection Hero
12.Return with Elixir:
Eleanor’s story breaks free of Vogler’s “12 step” Hero’s Journey at this point. It’s debatable, of course, but she does not return home at least not to her former home.
“Eleanor closed her eyes and sighed, feeling and hearing and smelling the house; a flowering bush beyond the kitchen was heavy with scent, and the water in the brook moved sparkling over the stones. Far away, upstairs, perhaps in the nursery, a little eddy of wind gathered itself and swept along the floor, carrying dust. In the library the iron stairway swayed, and light glittered on the marble eyes of Hugh Crain; Theodora’s yellow shirt hung neat and unstained, Mrs. Dudley was setting the lunch table for five. Hill House watched, arrogant and patient. ‘I won’t go away,’ Eleanor said up to the high windows.
Eleanor found her purpose and it was not to visit Hill House, but to stay forever in its embrace. She belonged to the house. She would belong to no one else.
Ultimately, I found Jackson’s writing to be philosophical, thought-provoking and quite symbolic. She weaved themes throughout and put a psychological thriller twist on a classic haunted house tale. I’ve spoken with some classmates that have disliked the ending for whatever reason, but I don’t see there being any other ending. Eleanor’s fate was sealed the moment she stepped through the doors of Hill House. And although it was a tragic ending, I felt it completed Eleanor’s journey.
“Journey’s end in lovers meeting.”
Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey. 2nd ed. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.
Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. New York; Viking Penguin Inc., 1959.