Summary: Chapter 3

Dr. Montague and Luke arrive last. Everyone notes the strange, maze-like structure of the house. When the group presses Dr. Montague to tell them about the house, he refuses, saying that it’s dark outside and he doesn’t want them to leave. He explains that the last person who left the house at night was killed when his horse crushed him against a tree in the driveway. 

After dinner, Dr. Montague relents and tells the house’s history, careful to separate fact from fiction. The house was built eighty years ago by a man named Hugh Crain. Tragically, Crain’s wife died right before they moved in, when her carriage overturned in the driveway. Hugh married twice more. His second wife died in a mysterious fall, and his third wife died of consumption. Crain eventually closed the house and sent his two daughters to live with relatives. For years, Crain’s daughters fought viciously over ownership of the house. The older sister died in Hill House and left it to her caretaker, a young woman. The younger sister harassed the caretaker, eventually causing the young woman to hang herself in the house’s turret. The caretaker’s relatives, the Sandersons, then took ownership of Hill House.

Analysis: Chapter 3

As the group navigates the first floor of the house in an attempt to find the dining room, the doors of Hill House become a symbol of confinement versus freedom. Though Dr. Montague has studied a map of the house and feels prepared to navigate it, even he becomes disoriented as he leads the way through the house’s enclosed rooms. Each door that unexpectedly closes behind them darkens the room they move through, confining them as they attempt to find the next set of doors. In the darkness, they are temporarily imprisoned by their lack of true knowledge about the house. Their decision to prop the doors open the next day, as well as their determination that no one should travel through the house alone, will become important. The desire for open doors in the house is a desire for the freedom that knowledge of the house should provide.

Eleanor’s mental state after dinner introduces the theme of fear and dissociation. Though Eleanor claims she is not afraid to learn of Hill House’s history, Dr. Montague’s tragic stories of death, scandal, suicide, and madness cause her to become removed. Unlike her previous escapism, in which she absorbed details of things around her to weave into pleasant fantasies of alternate lives, here Eleanor begins to observe herself as if she is a separate entity. As the others carry on conversation, Eleanor pretends to be engaged while mentally listing her attributes in a wild and repetitive rhythm. In an attempt to ground herself, she includes details of where she is and what she is doing in the moment. The episode appears to end when she impulsively announces to the group that she has red shoes. Her physical paleness shows both the fear that triggered her dissociation episode as well as the effort she’s exerted in maintaining it.