“A Sense of Belonging” in The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Netflix series of the same title, though different, has spawned new interest in this classic about a haunted house.

Dr. Montague invited participants to the house that he believes are susceptible to the paranormal. Only later does he realize the enormity of his misjudgment. One of the participants, who is more fragile than the others, is driven to insanity.

What Eleanor wants more than anything is to be accepted. She has taken care of her ailing mother at the expense of her own happiness. Now, in her thirties, in want of adventure, Eleanor “borrows” her sisters car and meets the group at Hill House.

Soon it becomes apparent that Eleanor has no where else to go. Eleanor has lied about having her own apartment–she only has a cot in her sister’s house.

Poignantly, Eleanor thinks that she has made lasting friendships in less than a week. Naively, she assumes Theo would want to continue their friendship after the Hill House adventure is over. Eleanor says she intends to move into Theo’s small apartment after she leaves Hill House.

This is surprising at first given how much they argue. They fight over foolish things e.g. Luke’s attention or being in the group’s “spotlight.”

More than anything else, The Haunting of Hill House is about yearning for a sense of belonging. “Come Home, Eleanor,” a ghostly hand writes on a wall in blood. Eleanor is mortified that the ghost has called her out by name. This isn’t the spotlight that she wants.

Eleanor, who acutely yearns to belong, is afraid of appearing foolish and being rejected.

When Luke says she isn’t welcome anymore, after her unusual behavior on the staircase, Eleanor is beyond crushed. The tragic ending coincides with her lamentations at being rejected from Hill House.

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