Template talk:The Haunting of Hill House
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Can I elaborate on paragraph seven of the section on the plot? When Theodora screams at Eleanor to run, it's true that it's not made explicitly clear why she does that, but the context is completely left out. This is one of the more complex supernatural events in the book and it's thematically key as well.
Eleanor was invited to the house because appears to have a form of telekinesis -- under great stress she seems to be able to physically (but unconsciously) manifest signs of her inner turmoil. Theodora was invited to the house because she showed an ability with ESP, which she appears to use (perhaps consciously) to understand what the other characters are thinking.
At this point in the book, both women have gone for a walk in the woods in darkness, violating two of the safety rules of their stay. The area they visit was mentioned as a place that was unsettling, as they both earlier heard an unseen animal or person moving through the underbrush there. It's also a beautiful place, and they had discussed having a picnic near that spot, which showed the early growth of their friendship.
Before Theodora screams, they both appear to be observing a "timeslip" vision of a married couple having a picnic with a daughter that's playing with a puppy. The family appears in full daylight despite the fact that it is night. This would ostensibly be an image of domestic tranquility, but the context makes it sinister, particularly since the night path to the vision showed several offputting visual effects (such as the trees glowing white in the darkness).
The vision isn't explained, nor is Theodora's terror, but here are two ideas:
- The vision is of the deceased Hugh Crain (who built the house) and his second wife (who died falling down the stairs in the house), and his oldest daughter, Sophia (who died of illness in old age in the house). It's caused by the spirits of one or more of these people or by the house itself. The idea is to scare the current occupants, which seems to work.
- The vision is caused by Eleanor Vance as wish fulfillment. In this we see the loving family she was denied after the death of her father and the care of her invalid mother. It's not clear if she identifies with the child or with the mother, but either is possible. While she makes statements at several points in the novel that clearly mourn the loss of her childhood, she also has fallen for Theodora. This could be an attempt for her to show Theodora her innermost desire for a loving, stable relationship, which instinctively repulses Theodora.
I tend to side with the second explanation. At no point in the history of the house is there only one daughter living there, so leavng out the second child doesn't fit neatly into its history. Also, it's and odd choice of a vision to try to scare someone. While it is unsettling, none of the people in the vision are shown to have any ill intent. In fact, they are happy. It's a bit like being frightened of an ad for a family resort.
On the wish fulfillment theory, the specific idea of a picnic at that spot in the woods is associated at various points by Eleanor with her relationship with Theodora. Theodora's interest in Eleanor is as a summer diversion, and she later quickly cools when Eleanor asks for more. Interestingly, once they flee through the picnic and are on the other side, Theodora shouts at Eleanor not to look back, even though it doesn't appear that they are pursued.
It's also worth pointing out that Eleanor has another supernatural experience later in the same spot in which she is lovingly embraced by an invisible woman while Theodora appears to abandon her to flirt with another character. This could be the same kind of wish fulfillment.
Of course, Shirley Jackson is careful to undercut all of this so that either explanation (or both together) is possible.
Really interesting read, and the prose was just a pleasure.