I choose to interpret the representation of cars in The Haunting of Hill House. In this novel, a car is first represented as a means of control over Eleanor by her sister (Jackson 7). However, Eleanor’s stealing of the car transforms the car into a representation of freedom from her present life (Jackson 10). The car allows Eleanor to be free of her controlled life and to begin her own journey (Jackson 10). We observe the same car at the conclusion of the novel as a device used to free herself from her forced departure of Hill House (Jackson 178).
She uses the car to commit suicide, allowing her to stay at Hill House indefinitely (Jackson 182). I argue that in the novel the car is utilized for control over Eleanor but ultimately for her personal freedom. The car is what liberates Eleanor from her life prior to Hill House and also from her forced departure. I will also argue that the significance of Eleanor’s car being used for freedom is that it shows the transformation of Eleanor’s mental state. The difference in Eleanor’s idea of freedom, travel versus suicide, makes the demise of Eleanor’s mental state evident.
The car is first introduced in an argument of its ownership between Eleanor and her sister (Jackson 6). The fight reveals the strong level of control that Eleanor’s sister and brother-in-law possess over Eleanor’s life (Jackson 7). Carrie’s attempt of control over Eleanor is demonstrated by Carrie’s speech when she exclaims, “We don’t know where you’re going, do we? You haven’t seen fit to tell us very much about all this, have you? I don’t think I can see my way clear to letting you borrow my car” (Jackson 7).
This quote shows Carrie’s unhappiness with Eleanor’s refusal to share the details of her upcoming journey. Subsequently, Carrie then clearly denies Eleanor the use of the car. This denial grants Carrie a level of control over Eleanor’s journey because it would be much more difficult for her to travel without the car. Therefore, I argue that Carrie is utilizing the car as a means of control over Eleanor. I believe that Eleanor steals the car that her sister denies her in order to be freed of her sister’s control (Jackson 10). Thus, the car is then used as a means of freedom.
The following description of Eleanor’s change of behavior gives evidence that the stealing of the car has freed Eleanor of her sister’s control: When she had her sister’s permission to drive the little car, she had gone cautiously, moving with extreme care to avoid even the slightest scratch or mar which might irritate her sister, but today, with her cartoon in the back seat and her suitcase on the floor, her gloves and pocketbook and light coat on the sea beside her, the car belonged entirely to her, a little contained world all her own. Jackson 10) This alteration from being extremely careful and cautious with the operation of the vehicle to not caring demonstrates that Eleanor is no longer restricted by her sister (Jackson 10). The modification of her treatment of the car, as well as simply stealing the car, shows that Eleanor no longer cares about irritating her sister, therefore freeing Eleanor of her sister’s control (Jackson 10). Furthermore, it is critical to my argument to emphasize that in this context the car is being used as a means of freedom from her sister’s control.
It is clear that the car has freed Eleanor from her sister’s control and her previous life. Eleanor reflects on the stealing of the car and thinks, “I would never have suspected it of myself, she thought, laughing still; everything is different, I am a new person, very far from home” (Jackson 19). I interpret Eleanor’s declaration that everything is different and that she is a new person as Eleanor no longer being constrained by her sister and her family (Jackson 19). Being liberated of her sister’s control, Eleanor is allowed to be herself and do whatever she desires.
Therefore, the car has a granted Eleanor this freedom from her sister’s control, allowing Eleanor to live her own life. Mrs. Montague’s view of Eleanor’s thievery causes a regression of the symbolic meaning of the car: “I’ve spoken to the sister, Mrs. Montague said importantly. I must say, she asked first about the car. A vulgar person; I told her she need have no fear. You were very wrong, John, to let her steal her sister’s car and come here” (Jackson 177). This occurrence shows a regression of the car’s representation back to an object utilized as control over Eleanor. Mrs. Montague’s reprimanding of Dr. Montague for allowing Eleanor to steal the car transforms Eleanor’s act of stealing the car into a negative action, as opposed to a positive act of Eleanor liberating herself from the restraints and control of her life. Therefore the car is again transformed into an object of control over Eleanor. Eleanor’s following confession demonstrates her desperate need to remain at Hill House and keep her freedom: “I haven’t any apartment, she said to Theodora. I made it up, I sleep on a cot at my sister’s, in the baby’s room. I haven’t any home no place at all. There’s no place you can send me” (Jackson 177).
This allows us to further realize how meaningless and controlled Eleanor’s life was prior to her journey to Hill House (Jackson 177). Eleanor leaving Hill House in her sister’s stolen car would most likely force Eleanor into an even further restrained and controlled life. Forcing Eleanor to depart in the car only to return to an extremely controlled life would again make the car into an object of control rather than freedom As Eleanor prepared to leave Hill House she reflected upon its meaning to her: “The house was waiting now, she thought, and it was waiting for her; no one else could satisfy it. The house wants me to stay” (Jackson 178).
This quote allows me to realize that after experiencing a life of freedom and meaning it would be nearly impossible for Eleanor to regress backwards by returning to a constrained life with her sister’s family (Jackson 178). Eleanor’s strong desire to not be near her sister leads me to believe that Eleanor has no meaning, purpose, or connection with her sister (Jackson 178). However, with this quote it appears that Hill House gives Eleanor a meaning and thus a sense of belonging (Jackson 178). Whether or not that sense of meaning is real or intentionally created by Hill House to keep Eleanor there is irrelevant (Jackson 178).
It is irrelevant because regardless of the origin of this meaning Eleanor believes that she has found her purpose and her place in the world (Jackson 178). Eleanor feels that the house desires her presence which gives her the sense of belonging (Jackson 178). It would not make sense for Eleanor to desire to return to a life in which she did not feel as though she belonged after she has found a domain in which she feels she belongs and is wanted. Since Eleanor must be forced to leave Hill House by car, the car is utilized as control over Eleanor.
As Eleanor begins to drive away she thinks to herself, “But I won’t go, she thought, and laughed aloud to herself, Hill House is not as easy as they are, just by telling me to go away they can’t make me leave, not if Hill House means me to stay” (Jackson 181). This quotation shows that she is yet again refusing to be controlled by others, similarly to the situation of stealing the car (Jackson 181). Eleanor refused to allow her sister to control her anymore by stealing the car and now she is refusing to allow the inhabitants of Hill House to control her by refusing to leave (Jackson 181).
At this point the car is being used as a means of control because the car is brought to her with all of her belongings and she is forced to leave in it (Jackson 180). Eleanor is taking a clear stand against all the inhabitants of Hill House who are controlling her by forcing her to leave and says: Go away Eleanor, she chanted aloud, go away, Eleanor, we don’t want you any more, not in our Hill House, go away, Eleanor, you can’t stay here; but I can, she sang, but I can; they don’t make the rules around here. They can’t turn me out or shut me out or laugh at me or hide from me; I won’t go, and Hill House belongs to me (Jackson 181).
This quotation demonstrates Eleanor’s strong refusal to be controlled by means of the car. However, she is still driving away therefore the car is still being represented as an object of control over Eleanor. It is apparent that Eleanor uses the car as an object to take her own life, for she states, “I am really doing it she thought, turning the wheel to send the car directly at the great tree, at the curve of the driveway, I am really doing it, I am doing this all by myself now, at last; this is me, I am really really really doing it all by myself” (Jackson 182).
Her suicide is an extreme act of desperation. It is apparent that Eleanor felt as though her only way of remaining at Hill House and being freed of the control placed on her was to commit suicide on the property of Hill House. Therefore the car is ultimately utilized as a means of freedom for Eleanor. Her suicide allows Eleanor to remain at Hill House in spirit and also allows her to not be forced back into her previously controlled life with her sister by way of the car.
I would also like to argue briefly that the car can be used to show the demise of Eleanor’s mental well being. In the beginning of the novel, the freedom granted by the use of the car was to remove Eleanor from the control of her sister. For the duration of Eleanor’s journey to Hill House it was evident that she was mentally stable. The evidence being that Eleanor possessed a very optimistic and hopeful outlook regarding her newfound freedom and journey (Jackson 15).
She continually daydreamed of the possibilities of her future life such as living alone in her cottage (Jackson 15). However, at the conclusion of the novel the freedom granted by the use of the car was to allow Eleanor to remain at Hill House by committing suicide (Jackson 182). Prior to the suicide we see her mental state diminishing. Her outlook on life displaced from Hill House is incredibly bleak. Eleanor speaks as though she does not have a future without Hill House.
After leaving Hill House Eleanor could have pursued one of the possibilities she dreamed about as opposed to returning to her controlled life. Yet, due to her unstable mental state she alternatively chose to commit suicide. Eleanor’s unstable mental state would not allow her to see a life beyond Hill House. This clearly shows that between her arrival and attempted departure from Hill House Eleanor had become mentally unstable. In conclusion, I believe that the car shared between Eleanor and her sister is a very significant object in The Haunting of Hill House.
It is significant because it demonstrates Eleanor’s struggle between being controlled and liberating herself from that control. The car is continually switching its representation starting as a representation of control and ultimately ending as a representation of liberation. Eleanor’s notion of freedom that is granted by the car changes as the novel progresses from travelling to suicide. This change demonstrates the downfall of Eleanor’s mental state which can further be used to interpret other aspects of the novel.