The Haunting of Hill House

by

Shirley Jackson

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Haunting of Hill House can help.

The Haunting of Hill House: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Eleanor wakes in the morning having slept, surprisingly, quite soundly. She hears the water running in the bathroom, and calls out “good morning” to Theodora, who answers her sunnily and tells Eleanor she’s run a bath for her. Eleanor gets out of bed and looks out of the window—it is raining heavily outside. Theodora bangs on the door and says she’s starving—she urges Eleanor to hurry and bathe and dress sunnily, in bright colors, to lighten the mood inside the house.
Eleanor’s second day at Hill House starts off in a positively cheerful way. Nothing bad happened in the night, and Eleanor—and Theodora—are riding high on this energy, feeling almost invincible.
Themes
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
Eleanor washes herself and dresses, and then the two of them start downstairs. Theodora is worried they won’t even be able to find the dining room, and indeed when they get to the first floor, they have to try several doors and call for Luke and Montague before they open the right one and find the men inside, eating at the table. The doctor, upon seeing the women, remarks that just a few moments ago, the doors to the dining room were ajar—they shut suddenly just before Theodora started calling.
There are spooky, inexplicable things happening within Hill House—but the group is, at this point, enlivened and intrigued rather than horrified by the strange happenings.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
The group remarks on the unexpectedly quiet, uneventful evening they all had. Eleanor says it’s embarrassing to recall how afraid she was that something would happen in the night, and then notices that as the conversation continues, the others try to steer the discussion away from the topic of fear. The group decides that they should spend the day exploring every nook and cranny of the house, leaving trails or signs for themselves to help navigate it and naming the rooms together. Mrs. Dudley comes into the room and robotically states that she is going to clear the dishes at ten. They all greet her good morning, but she simply repeats her refrain until they stand up and leave the dining room.
The group’s jovial and inquisitive mood grows heightened when they’re all together—but the reminder that Mrs. Dudley is a woman transformed and hollowed out by Hill House shows them all that there are still very real consequences to remaining alone and unguarded within the manor for too long.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
As the group sets out to explore the house, they are amazed by how dark and dreary the windowless, concentric rooms which make up the first floor are. Even the game room is bleak and macabre, with a large deer head mounted on the wall. Eleanor feels awful for the poor little Crain girls who were forced to grow up here. Montague points out the house’s odd features, like the verandah that wraps all the way around, the dank library, and the ominous tower at the top of the house, accessible through a trap door and an outdoor balcony. Eleanor balks at the idea of going into the tower, stammering something about her mother before growing embarrassed and shutting up.
The connection between Eleanor, her past with her mother, and her present at Hill House is tenuous and mysterious—but something about the imposing tower reminds Eleanor of her past and truly frightens her. Jackson purposefully keeps this connection ambiguous, allowing the atmosphere to darken on a more visceral level rather than explaining away Eleanor’s mental state easily.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
The Search for Home Theme Icon
Get the entire The Haunting of Hill House LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Haunting of Hill House PDF
As the group continues exploring the house, Theodora points out the odd architecture—she and Eleanor should be able to see the tower from their bedroom windows, and yet they cannot. The doctor explains that Hill House has been designed to disorient its inhabitants—Hugh Crain wanted the house to be a “showplace,” a marvel of design, but organized the whole house so that “every angle [would be] slightly wrong.” Being in the house for a prolonged period of time and experiencing its angles, walls, and floors that are all just a fraction of a degree off from “normal” homes has a cumulatively maddening effect. Balance and reason, the doctor says, cannot be trusted in Hill House.
Again, the ambiguous question of the origins of Hill House’s evil arises in this passage. Its confounding, bizarre design was born out of a desire to push boundaries and create something new—but when coupled with the malevolent presence within Hill House, its strange design reads as a purposeful trap.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
The group continues their tour. In one room, they find a huge and grotesque marble statue of the Crain family—Mrs. Dudley and Old Miss Crain’s young companion are featured in the sculpture, as well. The statue makes Eleanor want to cover her eyes, but Theodora is drawn to it, and even reaches out to touch it. There is a door out to the veranda on the far end of the room, and Theodora and Eleanor decide to have a little race around the perimeter of the house. They laugh gleefully and breathlessly as they run, but when Theodora darts into an open door, they stop short, face to face with Mrs. Dudley—they have entered the kitchen. Theodora apologizes for being so noisy, but Mrs. Dudley replies only that she sets out lunch at one o’clock. She then leaves the kitchen through a different door.
As the group makes their way through Hill House, Eleanor and Theodora try to comfort one another by playing games, imposing an artificial sense of levity on their grim circumstances. The rollercoaster of terrifying lows and exnihilating highs they feel is brought on by a desire to stave off the dread being in Hill House inspires.
Themes
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
As Theodora and Eleanor look around the bright kitchen, they notice that there are over five doors out of the room. Theodora supposes that Mrs. Dudley wants to be able to “get out fast in any direction” should the need arise. Eleanor heads back out onto the veranda, and wanders around the circumference of the house. She spots the “hideous” tower again, and is struck by the thought that even if the rest of the house were to burn away, the tower would still stand. Eleanor is lost in thoughts of the tower when Luke comes up behind her and warns her to watch her balance—Eleanor realizes she has been staring upward, leaning back at a precarious angle. The group hurries back inside to have some sherry in the parlor before lunch.
The house repulses and disorients everyone in the group, but Eleanor seems to be the individual most sensitive to its tricks and traps, and is most affected by the malevolent energy at the house’s core.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
After lunch, Montague suggests that everyone take some time to rest in their rooms. Eleanor and Theodora, though, unaccustomed to naps, spend the afternoon lounging on Theodora’s bed. Theodora paints her nails bright red, and offers to paint the plain, unglamorous Eleanor’s too. Eleanor enjoys having her toenails painted, but when she looks at them and sees them bright red, she becomes alarmed, and says she wants to go into the bathroom to wash it off. Theodora is disturbed by Eleanor’s panic, and suggests Eleanor go home. Eleanor says she doesn’t want to. Theodora touches Eleanor’s toes and tells her it’s too late to wash the polish off—it’s dry.
This scene seems to use the ritual of the pedicure to show that Eleanor both longs to be like Theodora, and fears leaving her old self behind. However, the application of blood-red nail polish also foreshadows another terrifying incident yet to come, one of Hill House’s darkest and most malevolent tricks. Eleanor’s visceral dread of the polish, then, may be a result of her psychic sensitivity to what the house has in store for her and Theodora rather than the fear of becoming more like Theodora.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Related Quotes
In the hall, the group reunites. Luke admits that he is decidedly not looking forward to inheriting Hill House. Montague leads the group down the hall to the nursery, which is a cold spot—as she enters the room, Eleanor feels she is “passing through a wall of ice.” The doctor says the phenomenon cannot be explained—though he believes the cold barrier at the door marks “the heart of the house.” The nursery itself is warm, marked by an “indefinable air of neglect” that upsets Eleanor. Theodora pulls Eleanor out of the room, and the doctor and Luke follow. The doctor says he wants to come back with chalk, a measuring tape, and thermometer to study the cold spot at night and see if it worsens when the sun goes down.
The cold spot is a haunted house trope—a familiar phenomenon that most everyone recognizes as evidence of a haunting. Considering the more subtle tricks Hill House has been playing, Montague almost rejoices at this piece of evidence, grateful that there is classic proof of a disturbance—and oblivious to the fact that this easy, common cliché might be a trick in and of itself.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
After dinner, the group retreats to the parlor, which they have been working to make cozier. As Luke and Theodora converse lightly and jokingly, Eleanor cannot shake a sense of dread. Montague notices she is nervous and admits that he is, too—they discuss the feeling that “something […] is going to happen soon.” The doctor points out the ridiculousness of their collective choice to stay in the house, and urges Eleanor to promise him that she’ll leave immediately if she feels the house “catching at [her].” Eleanor smiles and promises that she will.
This passage contains an important bit of foreshadowing, as the Doctor seems to sense that the house may try to single Eleanor out and isolate her from the others with its tricks.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Related Quotes
In the middle of the night, Eleanor hears something calling her name. She stumbles out of bed, disoriented, and says she’s “Coming, mother” as she reaches for the lights. She remembers that she is at Hill House, and realizes Theodora is calling her. She walks through the bathroom to Theodora’s room, where Theodora is sitting up in bed, wide-eyed. Theodora says that something is knocking at the door, and sure enough, Eleanor can hear a noise coming from down the hall. The air in Theodora’s room is “terribly cold.”
This passage starts with a deliberate blurring of the lines between the supernatural and the psychological—it’s unclear whether Eleanor is dreaming of her mother calling her name, or whether the house is creating an illusion meant to frighten and disorient her.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Eleanor tells herself to remain calm, even as she feels chills spreading up and down her spine. The hollow pounding noise grows closer, and Eleanor believes she can hear the distant sounds of Luke and Doctor Montague calling her name. As the knocking grows louder, Eleanor runs to the door and shouts “Go away!” as loud as she can. There is silence for a moment, but the cold persists, and soon the noise starts up again. Eleanor warns Theodora that she might scream, and Theodora laughs. The two of them hold each other on the bed as the doorknob twists and the wooden frame of the door trembles. Eleanor says tauntingly, “You can’t get in,” and the knocking stops—but is replaced by a terrifying giggle, which floats through the air and then disappears.
Eleanor and Theodora have their first encounter with the presence haunting Hill House together—they cling to one another for support, and even make fun of their instincts to scream and express their fear despite knowing it will do nothing to help save them. When Eleanor speaks to the presence, it reacts to her directly—growing angry and then taunting her, seeming to accept her boast as a challenge.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Theodora and Eleanor hold each other on the bed as the cold dissipates. The episode is over, and they can hear Montague and Luke calling for them down the hall. Theodora opens the door for them; Luke cheerfully greets her, saying she looks as if she’s seen a ghost. Luke is grateful for an excuse to drink in the middle of the night, he says, and procures a bottle of brandy and some glasses. The four of them sit in Theodora’s room and drink together, and the doctor and Luke explain that while the knocking and the cold assaulted Eleanor and Theodora, the two of them encountered a dog—or a presence “like a dog”—which led them outside.
Theodora, Eleanor, Luke, and Montague have all survived their first earnest encounter with the presence haunting Hill House—and attempt to comfort one another with lighthearted jokes and serious dissection of what happened to them all alike. The fact that the presence appeared to them as two different entities suggests that it is able to be in many places—and do many things—at the same time. Also of note is that the presence tried to distract Luke and Montague—those with no psychic sensitivity—while it came directly for Eleanor and Theodora, who both are more psychically gifted.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Montague remarks that whatever presence was making so much noise against the door to Theodora’s room could not be heard by him or Luke—they only came back inside when they heard Theodora and Eleanor shout. The doctor wonders if Hill House’s “intention” is to separate the four of them from one another.
The idea that the presence haunting Hill House is trying to separate their group in order to turn them against one another and isolate them from each other shows just how diabolical the house truly is.
Themes
The Supernatural vs. The Psychological  Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Related Quotes