The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Cup of Stars (Symbol)

The cup of stars symbolizes freedom, the universe, the heavens, the attainment of desire. Eleanor hears the little girl ask for her cup of stars and imagines herself asking for it as well. She tells Theodora she once had one and wants one again; Theodora later mocks Eleanor about the cup. Ultimately, Eleanor does not have a cup of stars and she will never have one. Her personal demons are too powerful to allow her to reach out for what she wants.

Hill House (Symbol)

How does one even begin to sum up the symbol that is Hill House? It is certainly represents a myriad of things. Critic Zoe Heller writes, "There’s no question that, in [Jackson’s] books, the house is a deeply ambiguous symbol—a place of warmth and security and also one of imprisonment and catastrophe. But the evil that lurks in Jackson’s fair-seeming homes is not housework; it’s other people..." The house can alternately symbolize the oppressive mother or the oppressive father. It can symbolize the fractured self. It can symbolize evil in a general way.

Doors (Symbol)

There are a multitude of doors in Hill House, and though the four characters try their best to keep them open, they continue to shut and keep them out. These doors, then, symbolize knowledge, self-awareness, and freedom. When they are shut, the characters cannot achieve understanding - not of the House, nor of themselves.

The Road (Symbol)

The road Eleanor takes to Hill House is not just a road. It is a pathway to freedom, to self-awareness. It is a symbol of dissolving her old life and finding a new one. It is a symbol of the end of limits, of new opportunities, of chance and thrill. It is no wonder Eleanor savors every moment she is on that road. The only problem, though, is that the road terminates in Hill House. Hill House's cruel, oppressive hospitality envelops Eleanor and obliterates the road. It holds her tight and does not let her go to the extent that she will never get back on the road again.

The Color Red (Motif)

The color red is associated in this novel with blood, sex, violence, wantoness. It is Eleanor who is doing the work of making these associations, though, and they are almost always involving Theodora. The red sweater that Eleanor chooses for herself seems foreign; Theodora then wears it. Eleanor dislikes the "wicked" red nail polish Theodora uses on her toes. Finally, Theodora's room is destroyed by deep red blood. Eleanor comes to despise Theodora's seductive nature and all that is associated with it.