...their father had been dead for not quite a month, showers of stones had fallen on their house, without any warning or indication of purpose or reason...
Eleanor was invited to Hill House for this reason. We do not know if she caused the stones to fall but she was certainly associated with them. By the end of the novel, though, given what we know of Eleanor, we may be able to conjecture more assertively (though still without certainty) that she did indeed "cause" the stones to fall. We know her sister is cruel now and may have been cruel and domineering then; after all, it wouldn't be long after the stones situation that she would leave Eleanor to be the sole caretaker for their mother. Also, their father had just died and although we know nothing about him, Eleanor wants more than anything to have a loving family. Her mother was terrible, but perhaps her father was kind and now his absence has led to a mini psychic break for Eleanor. The stones incident even seems to be mirrored in the loud pounding noises Eleanor and Theodora hear at Hill House.
No one would ever find me there, either, behind all those roses, and just to make sure I would plant oleanders by the road.
Eleanor experiences many firsts as she heads out to Hill House. She drives alone, drives on the freeway, defies her sister about the car, and doesn't tell her exactly where she is going. This is freedom in its purest distillation for Eleanor and she means to soak up every minute of it. As she delights in the journey, she dreams about what her future may be. Her excessive propensity for daydreaming is on full display as she stops the car to look at houses and starts to concoct fantasies about what her own perfect house may be. However, there is foreshadowing of the more toxic nature of her personality in this quote, as she reveals her ultimate desire to sink into solitude and to employ extreme measures to keep others away (oleanders are poisonous). Finally, many strains of these ruminations will later form the lie Eleanor tells Theodora about her life outside of Hill House.
Around them the house steadied and located them, above them the hills slept watchfully...
Most of the novel is told through Eleanor's thoughts and it is possible to wonder at times whether or not she is the most reliable narrator. However, Jackson refutes the notion that all of what happens is up for debate, and that Eleanor is lying about most if not all of it. Jackson has the objective, third-person narrator provide statements like this that give readers a more certain understanding of the House's insanity and evilness. It is indeed a place that seems alive, that broods and terrorizes. It is in the same category of diseased houses that Dr. Montague mentions when he gives his companion the background on why they are there. The fact that Jackson does this for readers actually heightens the terror factor because we aren't exactly sure if what is happening is due to the House or is a product of Eleanor's slipping sanity.
"Are you married?" Eleanor asked.
There was a little silence, and then Theodora laughed quickly and said, "No."
There are multiple subtle hints such as this one that suggest that Theodora may be a lesbian or at least bisexual. She lives with a "friend" with whom she has a serious enough fight that she leaves to spend the summer at Hill House. She gives this awkward little laugh as if being married is an absurd idea, as it would be in 1959 if her spouse was a woman. She is very touchy-feely and flirtatious with Eleanor and occasionally seems to have feelings for her, as when the two are extremely mad at each other and run out into the night, traversing the path with the question of "Do you love me?" hanging between them. However, Theodora also seems attracted to Luke and hints of their tryst(s) are just as common.
No, the menace of the supernatural is that it attacks where modern minds are weakest, where we have abandoned our protective armor of superstition and have no substitute defense.
Dr. Montague gives off an aura of scholarly wisdom; he is the consummate professor, gently authoritative and pragmatic. In this explanation of the supernatural, he appears confident and objective. His comments taken at face value are disturbing, but his tone and delivery are structured in a way to convince his listeners that he knows of what he speaks. And yes, he might, but the things that begin to happen, particularly to Eleanor, belie his dispassionate comments. What happens to her is messy and terrifying and probably not all in her mind. Dr. Montague acts fatherly and authoritative but cannot provide the succor and support Theodora, Luke, and Eleanor need. He contents himself with his measurements, notes, and advanced degrees, but the House defies him.
Good God - whose hand was I holding?
In one of the more truly frightening moments of the text, Eleanor realizes that the hand she was holding in the night as she listened to a child's laughter and wails was not Theodora's as she had thought. Perhaps it was actually a fleshly incarnation of a spirit, or Eleanor imagined it; regardless, the very intimacy of the moment is what repels. Eleanor's bedroom and bed itself ought to be safe, inviolable spaces but something/someone has invaded it. This is just one reminder of how Jackson subverts traditional understanding of home and security and makes us cognizant that something harmful may walk within the walls.
Luke... why do people want to talk to each other? I mean, what are the things people always want to find out about other people?
This is a fascinating line from Eleanor, though perhaps it seems like a throwaway one on first read. Earlier in the novel when Eleanor was just getting to know Theodora, she thought to herself how people love to answer questions about themselves, and how she was enjoying doing that very thing. Here, though, Eleanor seems less sure of herself. She seems more conscious of her outsider nature, how she was kept from knowing the ways of the world. She articulates a thought that most people who generally know how to navigate interpersonal relationships would never even consider. She is awkward, not quite right. This is made more concerning given what has happened in the text thus far; Eleanor has already experienced/caused supernatural manifestations and is becoming more and more disenchanted with her companions. Her discomfiting interiority and abnormal thoughts allow readers to see that something deleterious is happening to her.
"Here is lust," Luke said. "Was ever woman in this home wooed?"
"Good heavens," said the doctor. "Good heavens."
"He must have drawn it himself," Luke said.
"For a child?" The doctor was outraged.
When the researchers find the book Crain made for his daughter, they discover just how perverse, how lecherous, and how domineering the Hill House founding patriarch really was. Jackson creates revulsion and discomfort in readers by not telling us exactly what this exceedingly inappropriate and disturbing image is. Our minds supply a multitude of possibilities, all of which are distasteful to say the least. Critic Richard Pascal reminds us that Theodora is telepathic so when she calls Hugh Crain a "dirty old man," she is most likely correct. Pascal writes that "the purpose of [Crain's] sanctimonious pornography was to 'woo' [Sophia] - to inform her about and inflame her with forbidden impulses." Incestuousness is clearly implied, and Crain has "infested the very atmosphere with his barely suppressed lust."
"Don't look back," she cried in a voice high with fear, "don't look back - don't look - run!"
This quote is one of a few that reference supernatural phenomena that Eleanor does not see. The other two are more minor, as with the phantom dog, when the Doctor says firmly that it was just his imagination that he saw something in the house on their first night (leading him to make the rule that no one goes anywhere alone), and when Theodora protesteth too much that something she saw outside was just a rabbit and nothing more. Here, though, Theodora clearly sees something terrible that Eleanor does not. We do not know exactly what that is, heightening the terror, but critics have proposed various things such as "to be that child in the scarlet jumper... Eleanor would have to pass through the annihilation of whiteness that is her death. That, foreshadowed, is what Theodora witnesses" (Pascal).
In the unending, crashing second before the car hurled into the tree she thought clearly, Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why don't they stop me?
First of all, Eleanor's death was foreshadowed by that past denizen of Hill House who died trying to escape and crashed into this very tree. Second, this is a tragic little thought to come right as Eleanor ends her life because it suggests that the House was acting upon her and that, if given a moment to assess, she would potentially be able to consider an alternate path. But there is an ambiguity here, for Eleanor's death will allow her to join Hill House for perpetuity, and is not that some sort of release? Critic Christina Sylka writes that "[Eleanor] irredeemably isolates herself and irrevocably fuses with the dark energies of the house" which may give her an ultimately limitless future as a spectre/supernatural force within the house. Is that not better than being a servant to a cruel old crone or sleeping on a cot in a child's bedroom while life goes on around you? These are questions Jackson asks us to at least consider.
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.