The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5 and 6


Chapter 5

When Eleanor wakes the next morning she is inordinately happy: she has friends, she drank wine, she was scared but now she is fine. She has earned this happiness. Everyone else is cheerful in the morning as well, and they joke with each other about the noises of the previous night.

Eleanor comments that she knows she was frightened but cannot imagine actually feeling it. Theodora remembers being cold. Luke says he had to tell himself he was scared. The Doctor warns them that this excitement might be dangerous. He explains that though they are not in any physical danger, it is the danger they pose to themselves that arises in supernatural situations. The menace of the supernatural is that it attacks their modern minds when they have lost their defense. As for poltergeists, they are lowest on the scale. They cause destruction but are mindless and without a will.

Eleanor suddenly feels a surge of happiness and suppresses a well of laughter threatening to bubble up. She thinks to herself that she is actually here. The others are equally upbeat and joke and giggle. The Doctor suggests that Luke is a favorite with the grumpy, taciturn Mrs. Dudley and sends him off to get coffee.

While Luke is gone, Eleanor asks Theodora to explore a little summerhouse in the garden. Suddenly the Doctor realizes that he has broken his own rule of not letting them go anywhere on their own.

Luke returns and says he is fine but his voice and face are chilling. He tells them to come into the hallway. He holds up a lighted match and they can make out writing on the wall in huge letters. The Doctor touches it and says it is chalk. They can all see the message now: HELP ELEANOR COME HOME.

Eleanor is stunned and begs them to wipe it off. She stammers that it is crazy, and asks Theodora if she wrote it as a joke. She asks Luke too. Theodora suggests lightly that maybe she did it herself. Eleanor practically shouts that she is not the spoiled one who likes being singled out. Theodora replies that maybe the spirit of the companion was waiting for a drab, timid someone to come here. Eleanor says it was addressed to herself because no message could get through Theodora’s iron selfishness, and Theodora retorts that perhaps she wrote it to herself.

Eleanor gasps angrily and Luke steps in to calm them. Suddenly the Doctor laughs and Luke smiles; they believe Theodora was rude to shock Eleanor awake from her scare. Theodora apologizes and Eleanor, though secretly thinking Theodora knew exactly what she was doing, accepts her apology.

Time passes slowly and rather luxuriously. They take their meals together and stay close. The young people explore outside and the Doctor sits comfortably on the lawn. The next day he tries to measure the precise location of the cold spot. They meet for croquet, eat peach shortcake, and think about how there is no world but this one at present. The Doctor tells them his wife will be coming the day after tomorrow.

Theodora wonders why nothing more has happened and Eleanor comments that the house is waiting and biding its time. They laugh and joke as they climb the stairs to their rooms. Theodora enters her room and suddenly calls back to Eleanor in a frightened voice. Eleanor rushes over and looks inside.

Aghast, Eleanor sees red paint splattered all over Theodora’s room and over her clothes in the wardrobe. On the wall is written, "HELP ELEANOR COME HOME ELEANOR." The smell is monstrous, and Eleanor realizes it is blood, not paint. Theodora is distressed, but Eleanor wonders which of them will be the first to really let go.

Theodora runs to her clothes and starts to cry hysterically. Eleanor says to call for the others. Theodora bitterly turns to Eleanor and asks if this was some little secret for the two of them. Breathing deeply, Eleanor ignores her and calls for Luke and the Doctor.

The men arrive and wrinkle their noses in disgust. The smell is overwhelming. They usher Theodora into Eleanor’s room and the Doctor says she will have to borrow Eleanor’s clothes and sleep here.

Later that evening, Eleanor stares at Theodora and thinks about how much she hates her and how she wishes she could watch her dying. They discuss fear and Eleanor tries to explain that she knew she was afraid but could not feel it at the time. Even though she wonders if she should stop talking, she begins to say that she is afraid of being alone, that the letters scared her because they were familiar, that it seemed like she was going to dissolve and slip and perhaps if only she could surrender… the doctor interrupts her sharply and Luke says she has done this before. Eleanor is confused and asks what she said. They tell her to drink her brandy.

That night, Eleanor and Theodora lay next to each in their two beds holding hands in the cold and the dark. Eleanor hears a little laugh gurgling and wailing. She wants to speak but cannot. She wonders why if they left the light on it is now dark. The voice babbles and gloats and sounds mad. Then it begins to sound sad and wild, and moans. Eleanor realizes it is a child and feels immense distress. She knows she is scared but does not want this filthy house to hurt a child so she begins to shout, “Stop it!”

The light comes on and Theodora suddenly wakes and looks up, disheveled. In horror, Eleanor cries out to ask whose hand she was holding.

Chapter 6

Luke and Eleanor sit on the steps of the summerhouse, basking in the sun. Eleanor muses that she is learning the pathways of the heart but wonders where that phrase came from. She asks Luke why people want to talk to each other and find out things. Luke laughs and asks what she wants to know.

Eleanor finds him vain but in her head begs him to tell her something only she will ever know. She wonders how he wants to appear to her. Gallant? Mysterious? Mad? Does Theodora know him as well as this?

He turns and looks at her and announces that he never had a mother. No loved him because he did not belong. Even though she wants to scream and denounce his “maudlin self-pity” (122), Eleanor tells him she understands.

After a pause, Eleanor wonders if he wants to end the conversation or tell her more, but he merely repeats that he never had a mother. Eleanor is frustrated at how boring he is. All she wants is to be cherished and he gives her gibberish.

Later the four gather around a strange manuscript Luke found entitled “Memories, for Sophia Anne Lester Crain” made by her father in 1881. Crain had cut up fine books to make this; there is a Goya etching of which underneath is a statement to honor thy father and mother. There is an image of a writhing snake pit and warnings of eternal damnation, images and words about the fires of Hell, and then the seven deadly sins. They are disgusted by the image for lust, drawn by Crain himself, and marvel that it was for a child. On the last page is Crain’s own blood signed with a message about the sacredness of this text and how he and his daughter will be together in unending bliss in the hereafter. Theodora shudders that he is a dirty old man with a dirty old house.

That evening the four gather by the fire and Theodora mocks Eleanor quietly, asking if she wants to have Luke over to drink from her cup of stars. Perhaps he will like her tiny house. All Eleanor says is that she had to come here, but then gets up and rushes outside.

Theodora follows her and they both begin to walk, sad and angry and silent. Both are filled with despair, but refuse to speak first. Finally, Eleanor asks why Theodora thinks she has any right to interfere in her affairs. Theodora grimly replies that nothing Eleanor does interests her. She then seems genuine as she apologizes that Luke is a rake, and that Eleanor is making a fool of herself. Eleanor is wearied and tells her she is wrong.

Both are silent again and a question – “Do you love me?” – hangs unsaid in the air. They walk slowly and quietly. The path changes suddenly and they grasp hands. Theodora tightens her grip, warning Eleanor to be quiet. The trees are silent and Eleanor feels waves of fear wash over her. The path screams its blackness and she knows she is truly afraid.

The only thing they can do is keep taking the path so they do not sink into the whiteness, blackness, and evil glow. They cannot step off without being annihilated. It ends at the garden and a tableau opens before them. All is light and laughter – it is a family picnic on rich green grass with bright colors and a tablecloth. The mother reaches for fruit and suddenly Theodora screams for Eleanor not to look back and they run into the tableau which vanishes, leaving them only in grass and darkness. They find a wall with a gate and scratch and scream until it opens and they run back into the house.

They are both shaken and stammering and can only get a few words out as they cry and laugh to Luke and the Doctor.


Jackson’s mastery at building horror and tension is on full display in these two chapters. That horror is even more startling because it is bracketed by periods where the characters feel relaxed, perhaps even content. Of course, they know that the house is merely biding its time and preparing something for them, but the tension becomes unbearable because it seems like things are okay.

Chapter 5 has three distinct supernatural events: the writing in chalk, the blood in Theodora’s room, and the laugh/hand Eleanor experiences at night. The first two incidents begin to foster in readers a question as to whether or not it is Eleanor herself who is causing these supernatural manifestations (albeit with the house’s influence). Critic Laura Miller writes, “Eleanor may be the target of the haunting of Hill House, or she may be the one doing the haunting.” It is likely that the stones that fell on Eleanor’s childhood home were her own doing and the writing and blood may also be her doing. Miller notes that even though the other characters could see and hear most of the manifestations, meaning that Eleanor was not imagining all of them, “they could just possibly be caused by [Eleanor’s] poltergeist – a primitive, spiteful, violent, unthinking force – rather than by the house itself.”

The supernatural events begin to occur as Eleanor’s temper begins to flare and her thoughts become more confused and paranoid. Perhaps it should not be too surprising to note that the blood in Theodora’s room comes after Theodora suggested Eleanor go home and publicly mocked her for the chalk message. Eleanor hates to be singled out as the weak one, as the problematic one, so if one wants to promote the theory that Eleanor’s psyche is causing these supernatural events, there is certainly evidence to support it.

Eleanor’s thoughts also indicate that she may be losing some of her grip on sanity. To her credit, she is aware of this, wondering as she watches Theodora react to the blood, “One of these times… one of us is going to put her head back and really howl, and I hope it won’t be me, because I’m trying to guard against it…Maybe it will be me, after all, and I can’t afford to” (113). A few moments later she looks at Luke and the Doctor and thinks “[about] the uneasiness which lay close below the surface in all of them” (113). When they gather later, even Eleanor cannot help herself from articulating this further. She says she “[hates] seeing myself dissolve and slip and separate so that I’m living in one half, my mind, and I see the other half of me helpless and frantic and driven and I can’t stop it, but I know I’m not really going to be hurt and yet time is so long and even a second goes on and on and I could stand any of it if I could only surrender –“ (118). This is a startling ramble, and the rest of the characters are disconcerted.

The third supernatural event is Eleanor hearing a wild, childish laugh and wail in the middle of the night and her holding a mysterious hand. Eleanor was an abused child herself, so it is not surprising that the voice she hears is that of a potentially abused/mad/confused child. The theme of abused children also extends into Chapter 6 with the discovery of the immensely disturbing book Hugh Crain created for his daughter.

As mentioned earlier, Eleanor’s thoughts begin to become darker and angrier. Her feelings towards Theodora after the incident with the blood are particularly intense. She thinks “she had never felt such uncontrollable loathing for any person before” and “she is wicked… beastly and soiled and dirty” (116). In the parlor, she realizes she hates Theodora and “I would like to watch her dying” (117). That intensity extends to Luke as well, whom it seems Eleanor has a minor crush on but ultimately finds dull and predictable. Even though Luke tells her something personal – about not having a mother – Eleanor sees it as something he probably tells most women. This is perceptive but also harsh, and Eleanor comes across as, Miller writes, “a prepubescent child, not an adult woman; sexuality requires an autonomy and self-knowledge she hasn’t got yet.” It is no wonder that Eleanor hates to be touched and to touch people, and that she is fixated on the color red and its associations with wickedness.

There is an undercurrent of sexual tension between Eleanor and Theodora, and many critics have pointed out that Theodora may be bisexual. At the very least, Eleanor feels an attachment to her and hates when Theodora belittles her. This extremity of emotion accompanies the two women as they quarrel and head into the dark woods surrounding Hill House. Again, a supernatural event occurs: a spectral scene of a warm and loving family picnic. The scene is beguiling and terrifying, full of intoxicating light and color. Critic Richard Pascal writes, “In this extraordinary passage the family tableau, with its rich, sensuous coloration, is both idyllic and hypnotically treacherous. To attain it, 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 when she casts the backward glance she warns Eleanor not to emulate, and why she repeats her name and embraces her when the incident is finally over.” We don’t know exactly what Theodora did see, but this is certainly a fair hypothesis.