Shirley Jackson’s book The Haunting of Hill House might be the literary version of MTV’s The Real World. The premise of The Real World television show was putting strangers in a house together and following what happens “when people stop being polite and start being real.”
Our characters in The Haunting of Hill House are strangers, brought together when Dr. Montague seeks to document the allegedly haunted house. Theodora and Eleanor are brought in to assist the doctor in his summer of research. Luke is a member of the family that owns the home, and the family will only allow Dr. Montague to rent the home with Luke there. Four strangers find themselves living together for the sake of paranormal research, so what could possibly go wrong?
Just like every season of The Real World, it seems in the beginning as though everyone will get along and have a lovely time. They take meals together and relax with chess and brandy.
Hill House is full of things that go bump in the night, which was their reason to be there in the first place. Like The Real World, it’s not enough to live together without taking sides and ostracizing someone.
Eleanor wants so badly to belong somewhere and fit in to a group. That desperate longing to be included is part of what brought her to Hill House. Eleanor tries to get close to Theodora, even offering to follow Theo home after their research is done, but Theo is having none of that. Eleanor sets her sights on a grand romance with Luke, and that effort goes nowhere. Theodora won’t have her, and Luke won’t have her. All that’s left to do is lose what few marbles she has and give herself over to the house.
Eleanor feels a sense of belonging in the house and she opens herself to the house and its spirits. She feels at home there, the only time in her life she’s felt that sense of being part of something large and important.
Eleanor wakes everyone as she runs through the house, hearing what she believes to be her mother beckoning her. Eleanor ends up in the library at the top of a rickety staircase, trying to climb out to the turret. Luke plays the hero and gets her down from the stairs.
In the morning, everyone is insisting that Eleanor leave. This is another great parallel to The Real World, where every season someone is bullied to the breaking point and the others all victim-blame. Instead of being excited that the house is just strange enough to have shattered Eleanor’s fragile mind and digging into what happened, they want her to leave. They have decided that they are done with Eleanor, and she needs to go. Eleanor, of course, doesn’t want to leave but they have made up their minds.
They pack her in her car and insist she skedaddle. They underestimated Eleanor’s commitment to give herself over to the house. Instead of driving away from Hill House, Eleanor drives into a tree, committing suicide to avoid leaving the place she thinks of as her only true home.
Eleanor’s death ruined the whole summer research shindig for the remaining group, and they all went their separate ways.