The Haunting of Hill House

by

Shirley Jackson

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The Haunting of Hill House: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the middle of the night, Eleanor rises from bed and leaves her and Theodora’s room quietly. She tiptoes through the halls so as not to disturb anyone, even as it occurs to her that if ever there was a house not to worry about making noise in at night, it’s Hill House. She feels compelled to go to the library, telling herself it’s because she can’t sleep—when really she’s being drawn there by a force she can’t name. The air feels warm as she descends the staircase and approaches the library door. As she steps inside, she recoils at the nauseating smell within—she is reminded of her mother.
The house has possessed Eleanor, and is leading her through its halls as if by magic. Eleanor is semi-conscious of what’s happening to her, but she seems to be in a state of gleeful, even mischievous dissociation and isolation within her own mind.
Themes
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A voice upstairs urges Eleanor to “come along.” Believing the voice to be her mother, Eleanor scampers back upstairs and runs down the hall towards the nursery, where she finds the cold spot at the door has disappeared. Eleanor bangs on the door, and Mrs. Montague answers, telling “whatever” is out there to feel free to come in. Eleanor decides not to go in, but instead runs up and down the hall knocking and pounding on everyone’s doors. She knows that none of them will dare open up to her.
In this passage, Jackson examines the strange paradox that has emerged. Eleanor is imitating the presence haunting the house by knocking on everyone’s doors—and in doing so, possessed as she is by the house itself, she has in a way become the thing haunting Hill House.
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Eleanor hears Theodora calling for her, and then shouting to Luke and Doctor Montague that she’s gone missing. Eleanor runs back down the stairs, hearing the others’ voices behind her as they come out of their rooms. Eleanor whispers for her mother as she runs through the house, hoping to avoid being found. She finds one of Theodora’s fancy scarves in the parlor and shreds it with her teeth. Hearing the others’ voices growing nearer, she runs further down the hall. The others believe Eleanor has gone out onto the lawn, and they head outside into a group to search for her—Eleanor dances along the veranda in and out of the house, going from the room with the marble statues to the kitchen to the great hall again, rejoicing at the warmth she feels in each room.
Eleanor is both fearful and feral as she runs wild through the house. She is haunted by the belief that her mother is somehow in the house—perhaps the house has disguised itself in order to get to Eleanor. At the same time, Eleanor feels a deep kinship with the house, and doesn’t suspect that it’s preying on her in any way.
Themes
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The Search for Home Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
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Eleanor at last runs into the library, where the air is warmer still. She feels she has broken the spell of Hill House, and is at last home. She begins climbing the little iron stairway which leads to the tower. As she climbs higher and higher, she feels “time is ended,” and when the others at last burst into the library, she hardly recognizes them.
The house seems to be pulling Eleanor up to the tower in order to force her to commit suicide—just like Old Miss Crain’s young companion. Whether the house or Eleanor is behind this dark death drive remains murky, but what is clear is that Eleanor believes she is a part of the house, and sheltered by it, when in reality it has dark designs on her life.
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Related Quotes
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Doctor Montague urges Eleanor to come down the staircase carefully—it has rotted away from the wall, and is in danger of collapsing. Luke begins carefully climbing the stairs to try and get Eleanor down. Eleanor is very close to the trapdoor which leads to the tower’s turret—she tries to open it, but it will not budge. She bangs against it with her fists, upsetting the others, who urge her to be still. Luke at last catches up with her and tries to help her down—she is reluctant to accept his help, but slowly starts climbing back down. The journey is precarious, and as Eleanor creeps down, the staircase rocks and clangs. Soon she is on the ground again, and as she looks up at the “infinitely high” spot she has just come from, she is amazed.
When the others find Eleanor, she is angry, and desperately tries to complete the mission she feels has been hardwired into her—to get to the tower at the top of the house. When she fails to do so and is able to be coaxed down, she seems to return to her consciousness for a brief moment, breaking the house’s hold on her.
Themes
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The Search for Home Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
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Mrs. Montague remarks that Eleanor’s “childish nonsense” has “destroyed any chance of manifestations” for the evening, and hurries back to bed. Luke calls Eleanor an “imbecile” for climbing the stairs, and the doctor agrees. Theodora, too, chastises Eleanor for her foolishness. Eleanor replies only that she came down to the library to get a book to read.
Mrs. Montague’s ironic statement that Eleanor has destroyed the chance of a disturbance shows just how amateur she is—Eleanor is the disturbance, but Mrs. Montague has a very narrow vision of what constitutes a connection with the supernatural.
Themes
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The next morning is “humiliating [and] disastrous.” No one says anything to Eleanor at breakfast, though they all pass her food politely. Eleanor notices that Theodora is wearing her red sweater. Doctor Montague tells Eleanor that she has to leave—Luke is going to bring her car around, and Theodora is going to pack her things for her.
Eleanor feels embarrassed by the events of the previous night, and seems to have been reconnected to her body and her consciousness. She is back to being envious of Theodora and highly self-conscious.
Themes
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Mrs. Montague speaks up and says she’s examined Theodora’s room—it is totally clean, and all of Theodora’s clothes are “perfectly fine.” Theodora corroborates Mrs. Montague’s report. Doctor Montague speaks over his wife, apologizing to Eleanor for having to send her away. Eleanor insists she can’t leave, but Theodora urges Eleanor to “get away” from the house. Eleanor insists again that she cannot leave. Theodora remind Eleanor that she has her own little apartment to go to, where all her things are; Eleanor replies that she has no apartment, and sleeps on a cot in the nursery at her sister’s. She has no home—everything she owns in the world is here with her at Hill House.
When the group announces their intention to get Eleanor away from the house, something loosens within her once again, and she begins disconnecting from herself. She is determined to remain in the house, and at last reveals the depths of her loneliness—she has nothing and no one, and Hill House is the only place she’s ever felt a sense of belonging.
Themes
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Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
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Mrs. Montague suggests someone should drive Eleanor home to the city, but Doctor Montague says that to “prolong the association” with Hill House would only damage Eleanor further. He asks if she feels comfortable finding her own way home—Eleanor only laughs in response. Theodora goes upstairs to pack Eleanor’s things, and orders Luke to go get Eleanor’s car.
Doctor Montague is determined to get Eleanor out of the house and back home—he doesn’t realize, or refuses to see, that Eleanor has chosen the house as her true home, or has been chosen by it.
Themes
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Later, everyone sees Eleanor out of the house, and as she looks up at the tower above them all, she feels as if she’s going to cry. She feels the house has been waiting for her and her alone—“no one else [can] satisfy it.” Eleanor begs Doctor Montague to see that the house wants her to stay, but he urges her into her car, repeating the instructions back to the highway. He apologizes for putting Eleanor at such horrible risk. Eleanor insists she isn’t afraid, and never was—she’s fine and even happy now. The doctor urges Eleanor to forget everything about Hill House, but she says she won’t be able to—being here is “the only time anything’s ever happened” to her.
Eleanor’s connection with the house is undeniable, though why it has chosen her—and why she has let it possess her—are still unclear. Even though everyone around Eleanor is trying to get her out of harm’s way, she insists that the house is her home, and the only place she’s ever belonged. Her torturous relationship with Hill House has broken and remade her all at once, and the barrier between the supernatural and psychological disturbance within Eleanor is murkier than ever.
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Montague helps Eleanor into her car, even as she clutches at his arms and begs him to let her stay. He shuts her door and insists she leave. Eleanor calls Theodora over to the window, and Theodora tearfully urges Eleanor to get better. Theodora promises to write to Eleanor, and whispers that perhaps one day, they can meet up at the house again and have a picnic by the brook.
Theodora tries to soothe Eleanor with lies and promises, but Eleanor is not looking for home in another person any longer, and cannot be mollified by Theodora’s attempts to comfort or sedate her.
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Eleanor waves goodbye to everyone and starts the car. She starts off down the drive, even as she thinks to herself that she doesn’t want to go. The others are telling her to leave—but she knows they’re powerless against Hill House, which wants her to stay. Eleanor points her car at a large oak tree and presses down hard on the accelerator. She can hear the others’ voices calling to her as she careens towards the tree—in the final seconds before she collides with it, she wonders why she’s doing what she’s doing, and why none of them are stopping her.
Eleanor’s final act is to commit suicide on the Hill House grounds rather than leave the one place in the world she has felt a sense of belonging. As Eleanor approaches the oak tree, though, she seems to snap briefly out of whatever spell has bound her, and has a terrifying moment of clarity in which she feels more lost and alone than ever before. In choosing to commit suicide by ramming her vehicle into an oak tree, Eleanor joins the ranks of Crain’s young wife, who died (accidentally) when her carriage crashed in the driveway, as well as the man Doctor Montague referenced earlier in the novel, who tried to leave Hill House at night eighteen years ago and was crushed against the oak tree by his horse.
Themes
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The Search for Home Theme Icon
Fear and Dissociation Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
Related Quotes
After Eleanor’s suicide, Doctor Montague and his party vacate Hill House. Theodora returns home to her apartment and her roommate. Luke goes to Paris to stay a while with his aunt, the house’s owner. Doctor Montague publishes an article analyzing the psychic phenomena of Hill House, but it is received  with contempt by his peers, and he retires from “active scholarly pursuits.” Hill House, meanwhile, remains standing and “not sane.” Whatever presence walks within it continues to walk alone.
Hill House proves itself an unconquerable force in the end. It kills Eleanor, it isolates those who have visited it, and though Montague reports on what he’s seen there, no one in the world believes him. Hill House is victorious, and whatever lives inside it is doomed—or free—to be alone again at last.
Themes
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Isolation Theme Icon