Mrs. Montague is expected that evening. Eleanor goes outside for awhile, wanting to be away from the dark wood of the house. She lies down in the grass among the flowers and feels a wild sense of happiness. What am I going to do, she thinks?
Mrs. Montague arrives, brisk and bossy. She brings Arthur, her assistant; Arthur is a headmaster and is stern and gruff. Mrs. Montague chides her husband for not making more progress the week that they’ve been there. She dismisses his comments about the cold spot near the nursery with a distracted “Yes, Dear.” Arthur calls Luke a coward for saying they do not go out after dark.
Mrs. Montague taps her foot impatiently and wonders why they do not seem to understand that they have to treat spirits with love and compassion. Eleanor privately feels sorry for Dr. Montague.
The group heads into the dining room for dinner. Mrs. Montague instructs Arthur to eat lightly since they have a big night ahead of them. Dr. Montague asks what they plan to do and his wife replies that she will go into the haunted room with a nightlight to get in touch with the troubled spirits; Arthur will patrol. Right after dinner they will have a session with planchette, but not with everyone else because she sniffs that they are not ready. Luke politely suggests the library as a quiet room.
Luke and the Doctor escort the two to the library. Theodora looks over at Eleanor and smiles, commenting that poor Luke never had a mother. Surprised, Eleanor almost spills her drink, and says they ought to go with the others.
Luke is asking the Doctor what a planchette is. He groans and says it is like the Ouija Board because it apparently communicates with spirits. It writes answers to questions and he finds it all very superstitious and silly.
Later, Mrs. Montague and Arthur emerge from their session. Mrs. Montague is pleased and says the planchette was very cooperative. First, she asks her husband about a nun and he grumbles that a nun is a common form of appearance. Mrs. Montague barrels past him and says there was a name, alternately spelled Helen or Helene or Elena. This person wants them to search the cellar for an old well, and Dr. Montague sternly says they cannot do anything to the house itself.
Mrs. Montague is annoyed, but asks Arthur to read the interesting passage at the end. It seems the planchette has a control named Merrigot who has a liking for Arthur and told him a few things. Arthur and Mrs. Montague read the conversation, with him reading his questions and Mrs. Montague reading the answers of Merrigot. He asks who she is, and she says “Eleanor Nellie Nell Nell.” He asks what she wants, and she says “home.” He asks what she is doing here and she says “waiting for home.” He asks why and she says “Mother.” She does not answer when he asks if she is suffering. He asks if they can help and she says no. He asks if they can do anything and she repeats the word “lost.” She wants her “mother,” she is a “child,” her mother is “home,” her home is “lost.”
Theodora asks, irritated, why it is singling Eleanor out. Eleanor feels embarrassed. Mrs. Montague is surprised to learn that Nell is Eleanor, not Theodora, and tells her she is more receptive than she may realize. Theodora defends her and says Nell just wants a bed and sleep. Eleanor thinks to herself she just wants a peaceful spot amid the flowers.
Arthur announces he will set up in the small room off the nursery and will patrol the house with his revolver. Mrs. Montague will sleep in the nursery as she has requested. The Doctor worries about her but she sternly tells him that there is no danger for her because she only has love and understanding. The others need him more than she does because they are very vulnerable and unseeing.
After she goes to bed, the four gather in the Doctor’s room. They worry about Arthur and his revolver and the Doctor says he feels like something is going to happen.
Suddenly, the door swings wide and crashes shut. There is a rushing sound in the hallway. Theodora grabs a quilt and clings to Eleanor. All Eleanor can think is that it knows her name. The crashing sound begins and Theodora jokes that they’ve exhausted the house’s repertoire.
Eleanor rocks back and forth with the pounding, which seems to be inside her. She puts her hands over her ears and knows that the noise will go back and forth.
A creeping silence sets in. Luke nervously pours them all brandy. Eleanor thinks that they are in the eye of the storm and there is not much more time. Theodora drones aloud that it can’t get in. There is a caressing, intimate noise on the doorknob. Eleanor whispers that it knows they are here.
Cold floods the room. Eleanor wonders how the others can hear it when it seems like the noises are inside her. She feels like she is disappearing into the house and is coming apart a little bit at a time, but why can the others hear it too?
The noise retreats to the nursery and Theodora giggles madly. There is now the sound of swift, impatient movement and Eleanor hears the little babbling murmur again and wonders if it is her. The laughter swells in her head and she feels like it is trying to get out.
The house shivers and shakes, the drapes dash, the furniture sways, glass breaks somewhere. Luke and the Doctor fiercely hold the door, while Theodora calmly says that the house is coming down. Eleanor closes her eyes and feels a churning darkness. She thinks to herself that the house is destroying itself; lunatic laughter is everywhere. It is too much for her; it is over for her. She says, “I’ll come” (150) in a soft voice.
All is bright and sunny now. Luke’s face is bruised, but the Doctor is calm. Theodora announces that Eleanor is all right. Eleanor asks after Mrs. Montague and Arthur, and the Doctor says they are sleeping like babies. Theodora laughs bitterly that Hill House went dancing last night.
In the morning, Mrs. Montague complains about the room needing to be aired and smelling of dust all night, and Arthur adds grumpily that he’s not sure why he sat with a revolver when nothing happened except a branch tapping on a window.
Later, Eleanor turns to Theodora and tells her that after they leave Hill House she’s coming to live with her. Theodora looks at her blankly and asks why, and then lightly jokes that she doesn’t take in stray cats. Eleanor is not deterred, and Theodora says this is just a few weeks’ summer trip and they have to go back to their own lives. Eleanor responds that she will not be in the way and Theodora is exasperated, asking if Eleanor always goes where she is not wanted. Eleanor says she’s never been wanted anywhere.
Some time passes and Theodora, now sitting with Luke, tells Eleanor to stop talking about living with her. Theodora suggests they walk down to the brook instead, but Eleanor looks apprehensive.
The three head outside across the lawn. Luke wonders aloud what it will be like to own Hill House. Eleanor suddenly says it is her fault her mother died because her mother called and called for medicine one night and Eleanor never woke up. Theodora tells her to forget about it, but Eleanor replies that maybe she did wake up and ignored her mother.
Eleanor walks ahead a bit and thinks about getting an apartment near Theodora. She calls back to the others, asking if they are talking about her. She knows they are – she knows there is malice and mockery. She dreamily keeps walking and can hear everything around her. She feels a sense of wonder and joy; someday she and Theodora will laugh and talk about this.
Suddenly there is no one on the hill, only footsteps and laughter far away. She hears a call in her head of her name over and over again and feels caught in a tight and warm embrace. She does not want it to let her go but it does, and footsteps dance away across the brook.
Eleanor calls out for Theodora and Luke and finds them near trees. Theodora is startled and a little mad to be interrupted. Luke smiles that they would have been along in a minute.
In the late afternoon, they are outside again. Eleanor is spying on Theodora and Luke; she wants to know what Theodora is thinking. Luke sings, “The Grattan Murders.” He and Theodora decide to run off and explore more.
Eleanor hears Arthur asking the Doctor about his book, which the latter finds quite annoying. Mrs. Montague talks with Mrs. Dudley about how she wonders if these young people being together is not inappropriate.
In the evening, Theodora teases Eleanor and Luke tries to be nice. Eleanor sits and listens to the house; somewhere a door shuts. She can hear everything – the dust in the attic, the wood aging, the sound of chessmen, footsteps in the hall. Only the library is silent to her. Mrs. Montague returns from the planchette, angry that she did not receive any communications. She blames their skepticism for interfering, and the Doctor tries to soothe her.
Eleanor can hear someone unseen walking, singing, and playing a game. It is a thin, light voice like a child’s. She feels joy that no one else can hear it but her.
Late that night, Theodora is asleep when Eleanor slips out. She is going to the library and she decides she will tell anyone who asks that she is going to get a book. The house is warm and silent. At the library, she is repulsed by the smell but hears a voice calling from upstairs. She asks, “Mother?” and runs up, looking at the hallway doors. She runs to the nursery. The cold patch is gone and Mrs. Montague within asks who it is. She knocks on Arthur’s door and delights to hear him gasp. She knows they will all sit there, shivering and afraid. Come out and see her dancing, she thinks.
Theodora starts calling out, “Nell!” and yelling to the others that Nell is not there. Eleanor can here them all marshaling to look for her and starts running away. She passes through the game room where she espies Theodora’s scarf and tears it up with her teeth, then runs away down the hall. She can see them all trying to stay together, following their flashlights, and she can laugh to herself that they are foolish and slow and deaf and heavy.
For a moment, she darts out on the veranda and thinks how lucky Hill House is to be nestled in the hills like that. She dances through the other rooms, hears Luke’s voice, and runs straight into the library. She runs up the iron staircase and delights in how she is finally home. She climbs and climbs and climbs, feeling intoxicated.
Suddenly, she hears voices and cannot immediately figure out whose they are. She looks down and sees everyone as they call out to her. Luke begins to climb up, albeit reluctantly. Eleanor begins to hammer on the trap door leading out to the turret but it is locked. She wildly thinks she does not want to be caught. Luke orders her to take his hand and come down.
They descend very slowly together and reach the ground. Eleanor looks at the staircase swaying. Mrs. Montague sniffs that this young woman has given them enough trouble tonight and it is quite ridiculous.
Theodora looks at Eleanor and asks her if she had to do it.
The next morning, everyone is quiet and Eleanor is embarrassed. After breakfast, the Doctor says Luke will bring her car around and Theodora will help her pack. Eleanor giggles that Theodora will have nothing to wear since she’s been borrowing Eleanor’s clothes but Theodora says hers are normal now.
When Eleanor says she cannot leave, the Doctor says she has been there long enough. Theodora encourages her to go home to her little place, but Eleanor laughs that she was lying about that. Their faces are scared and Eleanor is pleased. Mrs. Montague says she’s spoken to the sister who was quite annoyed.
Eleanor laughs that she wants to be walled up alive here. When they all go outside with her, she looks at the house and knows it wants her to stay. The Doctor tells her this is for her own safety and he is very sorry. She is solemn and responds that she was happy for the first time. He says gently that there cannot be a next time. Eleanor says it was the only time anything ever happened to her and the Doctor says he knows but that she must go now.
Goodbyes are said and Theodora is emotional and says everything will be all right. Eleanor gets in the car and clumsily releases the brake. She moves slowly, looking at the others watching her. She repeats to herself, “Journeys end in lovers meeting” (181) and chants aloud that they cannot make her leave, that they don’t make the rules, that Hill House belongs to her.
She feels clever when she suddenly accelerates the car, wondering who will notice first. She tells herself she is really doing it, is really sending the car into the great tree. At the very last second though, she wonders why she is doing this and why they won’t stop her. Mrs. Sanderson is relieved the group departs. Dr. Montague publishes a paper that is not well received. Luke goes to Paris. Theodora moves back in with her friend. Hill House, not sane, will stand for eighty more years. Silence is steady and whatever walks there, walks alone.
The Haunting of Hill House comes to a grim, albeit not entirely surprising, conclusion with the death of Eleanor Vance by her own hand (or rather, car). In these last three chapters, we can plot her course as she moves to complete madness and absorption into the house.
The things that have happened so far – the chalk message, the blood, Eleanor’s growing frustration with her peers, her feeling like she is on the edge of dissolving, the spectral picnic, etc. – are the tip of the iceberg. In Chapter 7, Mrs. Montague and Arthur (who provide, among other things, a healthy dose of humor and irony to an otherwise gloomy text) communicate via a planchette with a force that repeats Eleanor’s name and the idea that she is looking for her home, that she is lost, that she needs her mother. Eleanor does start to seem lost, or at least excessively dreamy. She feels a weird sense of happiness even though things are getting more intense. She idles away time outside and spies on her friends. And she starts to become more and more in tune with the house itself. Her senses are sharpened to the extent that she begins to hear everything that is going on, from people’s footsteps to dust settling. She decides she must live with Theodora after they leave the house, an utterly absurd and obsessive conclusion for her to make.
If there is a single moment to identify as that of Eleanor’s full surrender, it is during the crazy pounding noises that besiege the four main characters (not, amusingly, the spirit-hunting Mrs. Montague and Arthur) and lead Eleanor to say, “I’ll come” (150). She tells herself, “I will relinquish my possession of this self of mine, abdicate, give over willingly what I never wanted at all; whatever it wants of e it can have” (150). The house accepts her and quiets down immediately. The next day, with her sharpened senses, Eleanor feels a maniacal sense of joy, a rushing of air, and that “she was held tight and safe. It is not cold at all, she thought, it is not cold at all” (159). That evening she hears the child’s voice again and delights that “nobody heard it but me” (167), something which would have scared her earlier in her stay. And of course, even later that evening when Eleanor is inexorably pulled to the library, her dissolution is manifest. The house is “warm, drowsily, luxuriously warm” (168). She is not afraid as she traverses the darkened hallways. She is the poltergeist as she knocks on people’s doors. She calls for her mother and thinks how lucky Hill House is to be embraced in the hills. Also, the library, the last frontier for Eleanor, opens for her so she can emulate the companion and kill herself rather than be caught by the others. When that plan is foiled and she is to be sent home, she knows deep down that “I could go wandering and homeless, errant, and I would always come back here” (177). She would love to be “walled up alive” (177) and is confident that “the house is waiting now… and it was waiting for her; no one else could satisfy it” (178).
Eleanor ultimately identifies with the childish, wild spirit of the house. She cannot leave it and her death is the ultimate dissolution of her self into the house. Richard Pascal writes, “there is a subtle insinuation that ultimately death itself is Eleanor’s cup of stars worth insisting upon – or at least a price worth paying in exchange for the fantasy of abiding forever in an alternate domestic universe wherein a self-indulgent spirit may run riot.” She gives up “her earlier effort at adult independence for a child’s fantasy of liberty and license.” Hill House is the lover she meets at journey’s end; it is the mother that grasps her too tightly even as she thinks she has finally made her own choice. Jackson reinforces “the typically Gothic motif of women’s imprisonment,” as critic Jamil Mustafa says.
There is much to say about the Gothic and about mothers. Critic Roberta Rubenstein says Jackson uses many of the tropes of Gothic literature in this tale: “notably, through the central character’s troubled identification with her good/bad/dead/mad mother, whom she ambivalently seeks to kill/merge with; and her imprisonment in a house that, mirroring her disturbed imaginings, expresses her ambivalent experience of entrapment and longing for protection.” Indeed, the house replaces Eleanor’s actual, now-dead mother. It is often described as suffocating and maternal; even Luke feels it too, commenting, “It’s all so motherly… Everything so soft. Everything so padded. Great embracing chairs and sofa which turn out to be hard and unwelcome when you sit down, and reject you at once” (154). It “functions figuratively as the externalized maternal body, simultaneously seductive and threatening” and is “indeed both enticing and devouring mother.” Eleanor often speaks of being consumed by the house, and eventually comes to embrace that with an unbridled joy.
Finally, there is one other critical theory that can help shed light on Jackson’s tale. Jodey Castricano suggests that there might be more than one consciousness at play in the text and that it is necessary to question volition and intention. Castricano begins by noting Jackson’s novel engages with the history of unresolved nineteenth-century debates regarding apparitions, the occult, the relationship between psyche and matter, the unnerving nature of new nineteenth-century communications technology that seemed to smack of the paranormal, etc. What separated minds from each other and the living from the dead interested many in the late nineteenth century, including Freud and Jung who broke from each other on such a topic. Jackson’s novel, Castricano asserts, “presents us… with a paradigm shift regarding the nature of the conscious and unconscious psyche.” It encourages us to look to multiple consciousnesses, some human and some not, some in nature and some without, some human and personal and others inhuman and indirect. Clairvoyance and telepathy “question the notion of a unitary subject.” In The Haunting of Hill House we constantly ask “whose” psyche are we dealing with.
In terms of examples, Castricano points to the shared consciousness of the telepathic Theodora and Eleanor on the night of the first pounding noises. The “efficacy of telepathic exchanges, according to researchers, does not necessarily require that one be conscious of taking on the thoughts of others.” So even if Eleanor is manifesting the noises herself, Theodora can hear them. we mostly hear Eleanor’s thoughts but we don’t know if they even belong to her. Theodora often references what Eleanor is thinking and “the question is, at Hill House, whose ‘consciousness’ – or, for that matter, whose ‘unconsciousness’ – prevails if thoughts are transferred between subjects?”
At the end of the novel, it certainly seems like Eleanor’s death is not entirely of her own volition. Castricano provides multiple examples of Dr. Montague using the word “drive” as in the companion’s suicide, Luke’s fear that the Doctor would drive the car into a tree when he first saw the house, etc. Overall, Castricano writes, Jackson “calls attention to the uncanny circulation of thought which can be ascribed to no one in particular. In other words, these metaphantasmic patterns make us unsure of who is who or, for that matter, what is what, because in addition to the lines and traces between characters, we must also consider the uncanny architecture of Hill House, a dwelling which, in so many ways, is strangely (pre)occupied with itself and appears as a sentient and equal partner in these psychic events.”