Thursday, January 31, 2013

Over the Hill or Sweet Sixteen: A Youthful Analysis of The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House is undeniably brilliant. It jump started a revolution of ghost tales and even, some might argue, a certain brand of horror. Regardless of those claims, the book is fascinating--an interesting combination of fear and psychological turmoil. But one angle that gets overlooked regards the combination of the book's fundamental themes, what they add up to, and why they make the book even more of an unsettling read. More specifically, although the book is about adults doing adult things, the story holds elements that should technically classify it in the young adult genre.

Eleanor is the heroine of the story, and she has many of the qualities of any typical young adult hero or heroine. She has tragedy in her life from losing her parents, similar to Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen. She is also repressed. Her sister and brother-in-law restrain her from living life. Eleanor is not her own person, and through the course of the novel, she rebels and finds her identity like any typical young adult protagonist.

The secondary characters serve functions similar to those in young adult novels, too. For instance, Theodora becomes like a sibling. In the beginning, the two even jokingly discuss being related. This might be compared to Hermione and Ronald in Harry Potter or maybe even Alice Cullen in Twilight. The whimsical nature and intimate bonding serves to show the protagonist, as well as the young adult reader, is not alone in the world and should venture fourth without fear or apprehension.

Other characters might serve as guardians or counselors, which can be found sprinkled throughout all young adult novels, but one that springs forward in The Haunting of Hill House is Mrs. Montague. She is breezy and funny. Readers enjoy her character for the relief she provides, not for the admirable traits she possess. Might she then mirror other obnoxiously humorous characters such as Effie Trinket (or any of the flamboyant and humous chaperone's) from Hunger Games, or possibly to Rubeus Hagrid in Harry Potter. Consider Rubeus' knack for letting information slip coinciding with Mrs. Montague's planchette incident. Although I admit the parallel is not identical, it is evident that Mrs. Montague's information assists in Eleanor maturing and growing fully.

Young adult literature also often deals with teen romance, and The Haunting of Hill House tackles this puberal topic. Eleanor has a love interest--the house. It represents the unknown, her place in the world, and everything she has ever needed, much as Edward does for Bella. Maybe it's all psychological, but maybe, the house and its possible metaphysical occupants might just reciprocate those emotions.

Of course, this book is not really suitable for all young adults, even if it does hold such similarities to other young adult literature. What should be taken away from this analysis, however, is that this book is partially unsettling because it coincides with young adult tales. As a reader turns the pages, his or her subconscious recognizes the characters, the patterns, and the themes that create a young adult novel, but the perversion of that format creates an uncanny sense of apprehension for the reader. Eleanor is an woman-child, barely able to take care of herself, begging for her cup of stars, and she grows into a mature adult who is able to make independent decisions. And she does make a decision--the decision to be with the love of her life, even if it involves suicide, an even more unsettling note that contrasts the uplifting endings often seen in young adult fiction. But, from a different perspective, Eleanor did grow up and did find her happy ending, just like Bella, Harry, and Katniss.


  1. Ryan, I enjoyed reading your take on the novel from the perspective of YA readers. It gave me a totally different take on the novel, and shed a light of parody on an otherwise unsettling book about repressed sexuality and the desire for acceptance. I especially liked this line "...The Haunting of Hill House tackles this puberal topic...". It made me laugh out loud, because the characters really are depicted as being immature and none of them seem to be engaging in any active and/or satisfying sexual relationships. Eleanor is thirty-two, practically a spinster, and she barely has begun her life, which ends tragically in a car accident. Her meaningless life ends in a rather anti-climatic manner, and as a reader I was left feeling unsatisfied by the plot. However, imagining Eleanor among the ranks of Harry, Katniss, and Bella brought a devilish grin to my face.

  2. Although I hadn't considered Eleanor as a Young Adult heroine, your comparison makes sense. Although she is thirty-two, she is emotionally stunted. She's spent her life first under the rule of her mother, then her sister. She's never taken those first steps to independence and grown into her own person. Going to Hill House--running away--is her first autonomous act. I first read Hill House in seventh grade, so I would have been eleven or twelve. I loved it. Maybe Eleanor-as-a-YA-heroine (in a time when YA literature didn't exist to the extent it does now) helps account for that, along with loving to have the you-know-what scared out of me. Good angle, and one I never thought of in the many time's I've read the book!

    Although I agree that Eleanor sees the house as a lover, I don't think I agree with you on Eleanor growing up and finding her happy ending. In her last second of clarity, she wonders, "Why am I doing this? Why don't they stop me?" To me, that implies whether the effect of the house was all in her mind or something more sinister, she is free of it, regrets what she's done, and like a child, wants the adults to stop her before it's too late. The last line of the novel says that whatever walked Hill House, "walked alone," implying that Eleanor and Hill House weren't united. I find that a chilling ending to the story. (and it's on my list of reasons I love this book.)

  3. Love your take on the story. I still didn't like the book much, but I enjoyed the direction you took with comparing it to YA novels. The way you lay it out makes sense and makes it attainable for a new generation. Great post!

  4. I really like your comparison with YA literature. I never thought about it, but you're pretty spot on with the workings of the characters and their influence on the the main character.

    I agree with both you and Patricia about the love affair of Eleanor and Hill House. It is definitely there, but i don't think it is fully realized. But I also don't think it necessarily as sinister as Patricia makes it. It reminded me more of the suicide scene of Romeo and Juliet. It was alove that turned crazed and couldn't last and that drove Eleanor to do something, even while she had doubts about it, to keep up that fantasy of a love alive, even if she has to die.