The Haunting of Hill House

by

Shirley Jackson

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The Haunting of Hill House: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hill House is a “place of despair,” a house which seems almost “awake” to Eleanor. She feels the house is “without kindness” and was never meant to be inhabited by humans. There is something about it which tells her it will not be changed unless it is “destroyed.” Eleanor wishes she would have turned back at the gate, and though a voice inside her tells her to leave, she convinces herself to press on.
Without even setting foot in the house, Eleanor is able to sense certain things about it just by looking at it. This foreshadows her odd, uncanny connection to the house, as well as its supernatural pull on her in spite of her very real fear and hatred of the place.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
The Search for Home Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
As Eleanor puts her foot on the bottom step up to the front door, she finds that doing so takes a great deal of strength. She tries to sing a small song to herself—the refrain “Journeys end in lovers meeting” lifts her mood as she approaches the “enormous and dark” manor. She uses a heavy knocker in the shape of a child’s face to rap at the door. A woman answers it—Eleanor realizes this must be Mrs. Dudley, the caretaker’s wife. As the woman lets Eleanor inside, Eleanor senses an “air of dirtiness” about the woman in spite of her tidy appearance and clean apron. She realizes the murky energy she’s feeling is a product of Hill House itself.
Eleanor lives much of her life in her head, indulging fantasies of alternate paths she could have taken and singing herself strange little songs. This one is not actually a song but a line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. By telling herself that her journey is about to end in a fortuitous meeting or even romance, Eleanor convinces herself to put aside her very real fears and press on. This shows Eleanor’s ability to dissociate from the truth and take charge of her own thoughts—for now.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
The Search for Home Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
Eleanor asks Mrs. Dudley to show her to her room, willing herself not to cry—she feels abject horror as she looks around the house’s main hall, which is “overfull of dark wood.” Mrs. Dudley wordlessly begins climbing the stairs, and Eleanor follows, clutching her suitcase. At the top of the stairs, on the second floor, Eleanor looks around and gets the impression that the upper floors of the house were finished hastily during its construction—the ornate carvings found in the wood on the first floor are mirrored upstairs in a hasty, deranged manner. Mrs. Dudley shows Eleanor into her room—"the blue room”—which is filled with a “clashing disharmony” just like the rest of Hill House.
Eleanor travels deeper and deeper into the house, ignoring the warning signs it’s giving her and her own personal terror. Here, Jackson begins developing Hill House as a symbol which stands in for the depths of the human mind, as Eleanor seems fascinated by how horrible and nonsensical the house is.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
The Search for Home Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
As Eleanor sets her suitcase down, Mrs. Dudley robotically explains the schedule at Hill House. Mrs. Dudley states that she sets dinner out at six o’clock sharp and leaves shortly thereafter. Breakfast is ready at nine o’clock each morning. Mrs. Dudley and Mr. Dudley live in town, six miles away, and never stay on the grounds after dark. She is sure to tell Eleanor that there won’t be anyone around should she or the other guests need help—and no one in town would “even hear [them] in the night.” No resident of Hillsdale will come near the manor.
Mrs. Dudley, like her husband, seems to have been adversely affected by her prolonged association with—or exposure to—Hill House. Mrs. Dudley’s flat voice suggests that she must dissociate, to some degree, whenever she enters the house, in order to protect herself. She attempts to warn Eleanor that there are risks to staying at this place, but Eleanor does not heed the woman.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
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Mrs. Dudley leaves the room. Even though she doesn’t want to stay in the “awful” house and is off-put by the blue room’s “chillingly wrong” atmosphere and dimensions, Eleanor tries to shake off her fear and get in a cheery mood as she unpacks her suitcase. She admires the clothes she’s brought along—including several pairs of slacks, which her mother, she knows, would have disapproved of. As soon as Eleanor is finished unpacking, she feels a sense of fear and dread creep in again—she is relieved when she hears the sound of a car approaching, and another person entering the front doors of Hill House.
Eleanor reminds herself of her newfound independence and freedom as a balm against the inexplicable fear she’s feeling. She’s telling herself that ignoring her fears about the house is the right thing to do—when she should, in reality, be trusting her instincts.
Themes
The Search for Home Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
Eleanor runs downstairs to greet the new arrival—a woman who introduces herself as Theodora. Despite having just set foot in the house, Theodora is clearly already experiencing the same fear and dread Eleanor is. Eleanor introduces herself and leads Theodora upstairs to the green bedroom adjacent to hers. The two are connected by a shared bathroom. Mrs. Dudley comes upstairs with the two women, and begins giving Theodora the same speech about the meal schedule she gave Eleanor in the same flat tone.
Eleanor and Theodora bond almost immediately. Their innate, shared hatred of the place, and the outsized gratitude they feel at each other’s presence as a result, provides both of them with the illusion of closeness and destiny. However, in reality the two women will come to find that they’re very different, and often emotionally or ideologically at odds.
Themes
The Search for Home Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
After Mrs. Dudley leaves, Eleanor shows Theodora her room, and the two discuss how hungry they are. Despite how “terrible” the house is, Theodora and Eleanor quickly bond over their shared horror of their new surroundings. Theodora suggests they go outside and explore the grounds for a little while before dark, and Eleanor puts on a red sweater and matching sandals. Theodora changes, too, into a bright yellow shirt. Eleanor feels envious of Theodora’s beauty.
Eleanor is slightly jealous of Theodora right from the start. Theodora is beautiful and confident—all the things that Eleanor wishes she could be, and resents having been held back from all her life. On another note, the two women’s quick bond is immediately heightened as they both choose to match with one another by wearing yellow.
Themes
The Search for Home Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Eleanor and Theodora step out onto the veranda and take in the expansive grounds of Hill House. The house is aptly named—behind the manse there are many green, rolling hills. Theodora predicts that she will be terrified of the hills falling down on the house during the entirety of her stay at Hill House. Eleanor becomes afraid that Theodora is going to pack up and leave, but Theodora excitedly runs off onto the lawn, calling to Eleanor to come help her find a brook somewhere on the property where they can have a picnic.
The beautiful and idyllic exterior of Hill House stands in sharp contrast to its monstrous visage and interior. The girls rejoice in being outside—but the illusion of safety they feel there is just that, a trick of the mind.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
The girls follow a path through the trees until they reach a pretty stream. They lie down in the grass together, at peace for their first time since setting foot on the Hill House grounds. As the girls discuss their childhoods, they find similarities their lives have shared—Theodora jokingly declares them “cousins.” The girls’ laughter is cut short, though, when Theodora spots something moving in the grass and grows frightened. She clutches Eleanor’s hand, but after a moment declares that she must have just seen a rabbit. Eleanor suggests they hurry back up to the house in case Doctor Montague and the others have arrived. As they walk back, Eleanor pauses, and tells Theodora that she’s afraid to set foot in the house. Theodora embraces Eleanor and encourages her to have courage—she jokingly adds that they can’t be separated now, just when they’ve realized they’re “cousins.”
The many similarities Theodora and Eleanor find between their lives makes them feel intimately connected to one another despite having just met. The parallels between the two girls—which often reads as a kind of twinning phenomenon, despite the very obvious differences between them—serve to deepen the uncanny nature of the events that take place in the house, and set up a closeness as well as a rivalry between the two psychically gifted women.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
The Search for Home Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon