Category Archives: Horror

26th Discussion: Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (17 Nov)

Edit: Thought we should mention that when the hot Korean guys sitting at the next table knew we are gay, one of them took off shirt on the pretext of scratching himself. If you’re that Korean, Aaron wants to know you!

Hilarious night. Alex was on a roll tonight and, like Aaron, found the novel frightening, unlike Timmy, Roy and Caleb. Glenn lent his moral support.

Themes:

1. Homosexuality: Are Theodora (Dora from now) and Eleanor (Nell) lesbians? Timmy saw Dora as a free spirit and Nell as someone lonely – so no. Alex, on the other hand, construed the warmth of the two women as lesbians especially when Dora shares an apartment with a woman. For instance, the nightmare Nell experiences, which Roy found remotely eerie, is clearly (for Alex and Caleb) a scene of wet dream and masturbation. The hand that Nell holds in the dream signifies finger-fucking. And the increasingly violent knock that wakes Nell is an indication of her orgasm. Aaron brought up the love triangle between Dora, Nell and Luke – Nell is jealous of Luke over Dora; Nell hates Dora because she can’t have her.

2. Love VS Fear: Aaron claimed that the novel presents two solutions to a problem: to use love (Mrs Montague) or fear (the gang of four) to face an issue. If we see the novel as an allegory, then it can be used on any problems, such as homophobia: we can use love or fear to accept gay people. However,  Aaron noted that the novel works very hard against Mrs Montague, making her very detestable. Why? Alex and Timmy suggested that it’s because Mrs Montague doesn’t represent “pure love”; her love is selfish and is to serve her own purposes. Timmy called her “a typical Grade A bitch.” The novel isn’t making a mockery out of Mrs Montague; it is Mrs Montague “who makes a mockery of love” (Alex, 2011). That’s why she needs to be caricatured.

3. Science: This became murky for us. Timmy argued that Mrs Montague’s scientific methods don’t work but Aaron was confused: isn’t her the non-scientific method? Whatever it was, Alex concluded that science couldn’t solve everything.

4. Mothers/ Family: We agreed that what happens within the house is the manifestation of Nell’s repression. Roy noted that she feels guilty for the death of her mother.  Caleb observed that Nell has no father. Aaron pondered over giving Nell a gay man’s background (i.e. absent father/strong mother). Alex suggested that perhaps lesbians are like gay men but with Electra Complex. Caleb implied that Nell is using using her mother as inertia, as an excuse not to move on with her life.

5. Gender/ Homophobia: Is it feminist or sexist to portray a crazy female protagonist who kills herself? Must the lesbian die? Alex said, “Duh. Of course it’s not sexist or homophobic. The tree that Nell runs into is a phallic symbol and she is trying to bring it down!” But, for a more convincing reason that it is necessary that Nell dies, see Doubling/Repetition.

6. Space: The space of the grounds and the space of the house affect the inhabitants. In a way, the house is a metaphor of the human mind. Caleb brought out the unstable mental state of Nell is because of her repression. A house “that closes its doors is always haunted by fear” (Alex, 2011). Given that Nell is a loner and the novel claims that “whoever walks the house walks alone,” she must die.

So obviously when Alex asked why Nell refuses to enter the smelly library, it was because the library is the vagina of the house and she isn’t yet a lesbian at this point in time, Aaron joked.

Characters:

7. Nell: Alex and Caleb observed she’s crazy and socially inept. Tim suggested that Nell’s slogan, “Journey ends when lovers meet,” a sign of mental illness of repeating , comes true because Nell falls in love with the house, which is personified and has a character on its own. For the first time in her life, Nell finds a purpose and is happy.

Alex notes the aural similarity of “knell” and “nell.”

8. Arthur: ,besides being Mrs Montague’s boyfriend, serves to pussy-block Nell, said Timmy.

9. Luke: Timmy and Alex liked Luke who is charming and saves Nell but despite having no mother,  we all found Luke has not much of a personality and is rather flat.

10. Mr Dudley: is as scary as a watchdog, Timmy said.

11. Mrs Dudley: is a comic figure until Mrs Montague comes along and showers her with some love, Timmy noted. They were two desperate housewives.

Literary Devices:

12. Roy wondered the purpose of the prologue which leads Nell to the House. Timmy suggested that it is to contrast her behavior before and after coming to the House; to show her relationship with her sister, a repeated motif; and to show that Nell is shy and talks to women on her way.

13. Metaphor of Blood: The blood, we decided, is menstrual blood. Heavy flow-day for Nell, which causes her psychotic graffiti – naturally. Caleb mentioned that the act of Nell cleaning Dora off the blood is reminiscent of Nell cleaning her mother.

14. Doubling/ Repetition: Aaron noted that Dora and Nell are doubles; they wear each other clothes, call themselves cousins, live in similar rooms connected by a bathroom. This is because they are duplicating the history of the sisters who have lived in the house before them. One of the sisters dies when her carriage is overturned at the tree–which is why Nell has to die in the same way.

15. Ambiguity: The hauntings could be maneuvered by Nell, who wants to get Dora in her bed – so said Alex.

*

Roy ended the night with a great quote from Stephen King saying that this is one of his favorite horror novels because of the economy of words. The novel ends with the same paragraph as the beginning. Too bad we can’t say the same for King’s tomes.

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Filed under Classics, Ecology, Family, Horror, Lesbian, Love, Shirley Jackson, USA