Very early on in the novel Eleanor comments, "I am like a small creature swallowed whole by a monster, she thought, and the monster feels my tiny little movements inside" (29). This is a good simile for a few reasons. First, the house is like a monster in its destructive capacities and Eleanor is small within its grasp. Second, the inside/outside dichotomy and dissolution/submersion are major motifs within the novel; this will be Eleanor's eventual fate.
Leaving the House (Simile)
Eleanor asks what it feels like to return from Hill House to a normal house and Luke replies, "It must be like coming off shipboard" (78). This simile helps readers understand just how disorienting being in Hill House actually is. Every angle, weirdly leveled stair, crooked tower, and windowless room make the inhabitants feel weird then they become normalized to it, but once they leave and return to "real" life they will feel as if they've been on unsteady ground.
The Veranda as Belt (Simile)
When the group explores the house and environs, Eleanor marvels at the veranda: "Like a very tight belt, she thought; would the house fly apart if the veranda came off?" (82). This is an effective simile because it stresses the tautness, tenseness, barely-contained-terror of the house. It also reminds readers of how the characters are feeling - at any moment they too might lose their grip on sanity and fly off into the void of fear and despair.
The Path (Metaphor)
Eleanor and Theodora take their fight outside one evening and begin to walk away from Hill House. Jackson writes, "Each was so bent upon her own despair that escape into darkness was vital, and containing themselves in that tight, vulnerable, impossible cloak which is fury, they stamped along together" (127) and they start walking down the path "because it was the only physical act possible to them, the only thing left to keep them from sinking into the awful blackness and whiteness and luminous evil glow" (129). This path is literal, of course, but also has metaphorical associations. It is the path to self-awareness, to honesty, to a reckoning. If the women traverse it they will stay alert and safe, but if they leave they will be swallowed up. However, Jackson complicates the metaphor, for when they reach the end of the path, Eleanor's picnic is both completely abstruse (what does it mean? who are they? how is this here?) and completely understandable (all Eleanor wants is family and to be cherished). Eleanor runs right through the picnic, but destroys it rather than having it destroy her; thus, this is a messy, complex metaphor of the vacillating supremacy of both self-awareness and self-delusion. The path is to illumination and to destruction; it is to something fake and something real.
Hill House (Metaphor)
Critic Darryl Hattenhauer says the house is a metaphor for the disunified subject, while others see it as a metaphor of patriarchal oppression. Both are correct as are so many other claims about the house itself. It is a profoundly fecund literary creation; there are so many ways to read it. In regards to the former, we can see this in the strange juxtapositions, closed-off rooms and doors, odd angles, darkness punctuated by bursts of light, and the sense of oppression, fear, relief, comfort, and apprehension. Eleanor, whose subjecthood/selfhood can best be discussed in relation to the house, is eventually subsumed into the house - this makes the metaphor even more appropriate. For the second suggestion, the house is indeed overbearing, oppressively masculine in its heaviness and solidity, and rife with a history of destroying women.
The Haunting of Hill House Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Haunting of Hill House is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.