The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4


Eleanor wakes, amused that she had her best sleep here at Hill House. Looking outside, she even thinks that the lawn and grounds are charming, but then wonders, chilled, if everyone thinks that the first morning. She decides she also must be cooler and more reserved with the others.

Theodora, with whom Eleanor shares a bathroom, calls out to her to dress like a stray sunbeam to lighten up the darkness. Eleanor thinks it has been a long time since she has dressed so carefully, been so hungry for breakfast, been so conscious of herself.

Theodora is dressed and ready to go and cheerfully announces Luke and the Doctor have been up for hours. Eleanor thinks she must not waste time tomorrow. They wander around looking for the dining room and only find it with the Doctor’s help. Dr. Montague smiles that these doors were open only a moment ago but swung shut.

Everyone gathers around the table as if they were a family, talking amiably. They all slept well, and the Doctor said he read until about 3 or so. One of the ladies called out in her sleep, he said, and Theodora laughs that it must have been her dreaming about the wicked younger sister. Eleanor adds that she dreamt of her too. It seems to her that everyone is trying to guide the conversation away from his or her real fears.

The plan is to explore the entire house and see how it is laid out. Theodora calls it a crazy carnival house, but the Doctor says it is in the plan of almost concentric circles with their parlor at the center of it. A series of rooms surrounds that. Then there are the inside rooms with no windows such as the library, drawing room, and conservatory. Finally, there is the veranda and doors from the drawing room, conservatory, and one sitting room open onto it.

Mrs. Dudley enters and, stone-faced, tells them she clears off the table at ten. The group rises and starts by propping open the dining room door. Beyond is the cold and bleak game room, complete with various works of art showing animals meeting horrible deaths. They prop open the door and head into the hall.

Eleanor comments that she thinks about the companion wandering around the house by herself. Luke opens the front door and fresh air pours in. The Doctor opens a small door near the front door and says it is the library in the tower.

Eleanor backs away in horror at the smell of “cold air of mold and earth which rushed at her” (75) and says, “My mother –“ (75) without knowing why. She cannot go inside, though Luke and Theodora stroll in. Eleanor can only see part of a staircase, perhaps going up into the tower. She hears the Doctor asking the others if they can see the trapdoor that leads to the balcony, which is where the sister was supposed to have hanged herself. Luke teases about setting up a nightclub there.

The three come out and Theodora comforts Eleanor by saying it was awful in there. Eleanor is cold and feels like she wants to cry. She shakily says she will not read much; there is a weird smell. The Doctor says he did not notice a smell so she ought to make note of that.

Theodora looks confusedly around and asks why she and Eleanor cannot see the tower from their bedroom windows. The Doctor gleefully says he has been waiting for this query. They listen obediently as he begins by noting the extreme difficulty they’ve had navigating. He believes Hugh Crain thought this might be a house of note someday and perhaps made it a showplace. He was a strange man and made all the angles slightly off. Doors are off-center, stairs are not quite level, and the tower ends up not being where it seems like it should. The whole place is, he concludes, “a masterpiece of architectural misdirection” (78).

Luke wonders if perhaps all of the claims of supernatural manifestations were only due to disturbances to the inner ear. The Doctor agrees that perhaps the mind may have problems interpreting the assault on its senses.

The tour continues. The Doctor leads them past their parlor, past the music room with a closed piano and a unmelted candelabrum. They peer at the overly moist conservatory. They then enter the drawing room where a huge statue stands. Stunned, they contemplate the “huge and grotesque and somehow whitely naked” (79) marble statue. It is a family portrait, the Doctor announces humorously – Hugh Crain and the two cherubs as his daughters.

Theodora looks around the drawing room, which is actually somewhat pretty, and jokingly asks Hugh Crain for a dance. The Doctor points out the draperies under which are doors leading to the veranda. Eleanor comments that nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then something seems to move out of the corner of your eye.

Theodora tells Eleanor she will race her around the veranda and the two young women take off, laughing. They bump into the stern Mrs. Dudley, who announces lunch.

Luke and the Doctor stand on the veranda and look out over the lawn. The door seems uncomfortably close behind them. Eleanor wanders around the veranda, which seems to be extremely tight around the house like a belt. She sees the tower without warning. It is of gray stone, hideous and haunted. She wonders why she could not go in and stares up at the conical roof topped by a wooden spire. It seems “gleeful and expectant, awaiting perhaps a slight creature creeping out from a little window onto the slanted roof, reaching up the spire, knotting a rope…” (83).

Luke reaches out and catches Eleanor before she falls. She was gripping the veranda rail tightly, he tells her, and smiles that the house cannot be trusted. Eleanor staggers dizzily. The Doctor orders her brought back inside and she feels a surge of embarrassment.

Back inside, every single door they’d propped open is now closed. Theodora says it is Mrs. Dudley, who did that yesterday. The Doctor frowns that he will have to talk to her.

After lunch, the Doctor suggests they all take a short rest. Eleanor spends time with Theodora in her room. Theodora paints Eleanor’s toenails bright red and laughs that she ought to focus more on such things. She jokes that Eleanor’s feet are dirty and when Eleanor looks down, she is shocked and disgusted to see that it is true – her feet are dirty, and the nail polish looks garish.

Theodora companionably says her feet are dirty too and she will wash them. Eleanor feels like she wants to cry; she says it looks wicked on her feet and she feels a fool. Theodora replies that she should not confuse foolishness and wickedness. Eleanor is perturbed. Theodora looks at her and says calmly that maybe she ought to go home. Eleanor is startled, but quickly says she is fine, and was just an idiot for a moment.

Their tour commences again. Luke leans against a wall in the hallway and marvels that this will all be his someday. The Doctor responds that it was certainly a handsome house when it was built.

They walk down the hallway to the nursery and the Doctor wonders if there is a draft somewhere. All of them walk towards the room and feel a piercing, freezing cold. The Doctor is immensely pleased and says that even the coldest spot in Borley Rectory is only 11 degrees colder than the normal temperature. This is a phenomenon that cannot be rationally explained; it is the heart of the house.

The nursery is musty, stagnant, and warm despite the cold patch on the way inside. The nursery animals painted along the wall are creepy; the room feels neglected as if Mrs. Dudley could not bring herself to come in here very often. Over the nursery door, two grinning heads, staring and distorted in laughter forever, adorn the wall. Eleanor muses that the cold seems deliberate, as if the house wanted to surprise them with it. The group retreats to their parlor for drinks. They comment that the house seems emptier after the hour when Mrs. Dudley departs. The parlor is warm, though, and they chat amiably.

Eleanor is bothered by Theodora’s frequent usage of the house’s full name. Theodora seems to hear her thoughts and says “Hill House” a few times in a singsong voice.

They all begin spinning fantastical stories to amuse themselves. The Doctor leans over to Eleanor and asks if she is nervous. She nods and says she has a feeling that something is about to happen. The Doctor feels it too. She asks if they are right to stay. He shakes his head and says of course not; staying here in such an atmosphere exposes all their flaws and weaknesses and breaks them apart. All they can do is run away. He looks at her and says that she must promise him that if she feels the house is catching at her then she will leave. She smiles, knowing he is trying to comfort her.

The men play chess and Eleanor and Theodora sit together. Theodora sulks a bit, something Eleanor notices she is wont to do when she is hungry, tired, or bored. They all head up to bed.

In the night, Eleanor calls out that she is coming to her mother. She irritably says she will be there in a minute. Suddenly, though, she wakes with a shock and realizes she is in Hill House. She rushes over into Theodora’s room. Theodora is sitting up, sleepy and scared. They hear a pounding noise down the hall where the nursery would be. Eleanor tells herself it is not her mother.

They are nervous, giggly. They wonder if Luke and the Doctor are already investigating. Eleanor thinks it sounds like children, not mothers, and that this feeling of fear is not altogether unpleasant.

It is getting closer. It sounds hollow, and pounds for a minute quickly, then slow. The women are both surprised to hear the men’s voices far away, not close. The pounding hits the door across the hall. Eleanor feels like that the strangest thing about this experience is that Theodora is having it too. She shouts wildly at the door for it to go away.

Silence descends. The cold creeps in and the two women snuggle close to keep warm. To their horror, the monstrous pounding begins on their very own door, hammering higher than a human being could reach, sickening waves of cold flowing into the room.

Eleanor does not know what to do, although rationally she thinks she ought to walk over and open the door. The cold bothers her more than the noise. The noise tapers off into tiny little pats, feeling around the doorframe. The door is locked, though, and the noise becomes angry and insistent once more.

Eleanor wildly announces that it can’t get in, and the noise ceases as if “the house listened with attention to her words, understanding, cynically agreeing, content to wait” (96). However, a little whispery laugh/giggle flutters into the room and Eleanor feels it down her back.

A moment later, Luke and the Doctor’s loud voices reach them. The cold has subsided and they grab their robes and walk out into the hall. Eleanor is surprised to see the men dressed as if they were outside. Luke is holding a brandy bottle and glasses.

All four are nervous, wondering what happened to the others. Theodora finally tells them about the noises and Luke says they saw a dog or some creature like it inside the house and they went outside to follow it. The front door and other doors were all closed. They’d been outside looking for it for awhile.

The Doctor is grave. He explains that he and Luke did not hear the pounding and the women did not see the dog. Now that they are all together everything is as it was, so, he suggests, “doesn’t it seem that the intention is, somewhere, to separate us?” (99).


Jackson rapidly increases the creepiness factor in this chapter as the four characters explore the house during the day and experience supernatural disturbances during the evening. The effects of Hill House upon Eleanor (and she on it?) also start to grow.

Nearly every step of the foursome’s journey throughout the house yields some disturbing discovery, many of which have larger symbolic significance. There is the overly moist conservatory with its bodily resonance; the music room’s firmly shut piano and unburned candelabrum alluding to the lack of music and light in the house; the grotesque and ostentatious marble statue that reminds viewers of the domineering Hugh Crain. Both the library and the nursery are even more disturbing because they have supernaturally charged atmospheres. For the former, Eleanor alone is struck by an indefinable horror at a moldy smell that only she can pick up and an unexplained need to call out for her mother. She cannot bring herself to go into the room, which is interesting given the fact that the library leads to the tower where the companion hung herself. Later in the text, Eleanor finally can go in the room, demonstrating that her dissolution into Hill House is complete. For the latter, all of the characters feel an intense cold patch that the Doctor labels the “heart of the house” (87).

Eleanor is particularly disturbed by the tower, claiming “I will never look down from those windows” (82-83), but then letting her thoughts wander to the tower’s “gleeful and expectant” visage, “awaiting perhaps a slight creature creeping out from the little window onto the slanted roof, reaching up to the spire, knotting a rope…” (83). This is foreshadowing at its finest.

The journey through the house reinforces Jackson’s excellent, modern updating of Gothic conventions. She, as John G. Parks writes, effectively uses Gothic conventions to reveal “the contours of human madness and loneliness in a disintegrating world generally bereft of the meliorating power of love and forgiveness.” Philosophers and psychologists in the 20th century delved deeply into the horrors of the modern world with its numbing nature and concomitant propensity of people to look for, as philosopher Lionel Rubinoff writes, opportunities to go mad. The characters in Jackson’s novels, particularly Eleanor in The Haunting of Hill House, “are emotionally violated and must struggle desperately to overcome their estrangement and dislocation, and most of them fail.”

Eleanor was alienated when she cared for her demanding and cruel mother, and now finds herself struggling to establish a self when she comes to the malevolent Hill House, a “mother house” that is “a fitting metaphor for madness” with its irrational layout and disturbing elements. Eleanor will eventually surrender to it, “her own fragile self dissolving and fusing with the substance of Hill House.” She has no resources on which to call for assistance. Dr. Montague is, Parks asserts, “little more than an intellectual voyeur,” Luke is uninterested and self-absorbed, and Theodora inclines to the critical. Overall, the Gothic conventions of eighteenth-century novels like The Castle of Otranto, Wieland, and The Mysteries of Udolpho are useful for Jackson to explore “the violations of the human self – the aching loneliness, the unendurable guilt, the dissolution and disintegrations, the sinking into madness, the violence and lovelessness.”