Summary: Chapter 4

The group meets for breakfast the next morning. Dr. Montague and Luke witness the doors they had propped open swing shut just before the women arrive. Dr. Montague explains that Crain designed the house so that every angle is slightly off, and he wonders aloud if this could explain people’s paranormal experiences in the house. As the group explores the house, Eleanor notices a foul odor coming from the library, and later, they all experience an inexplicable cold spot in the nursery’s doorway. Out on the veranda, Eleanor nearly falls over the railing as she tries to catch a glimpse of the house’s tower. 

During a break, Theodora paints Eleanor’s toenails red, and Eleanor becomes upset, explaining that she believes that the color red is wicked. Later that night, Eleanor wakes to hear her dead mother calling her, and she runs to Theodora’s room. Suddenly, they both then hear a banging noise in the hall. Eleanor and Theodora clutch each other as the banging continues down the hall to Theodora’s door. The door shakes violently and then stops. Dr. Montague and Luke arrive soon after, saying they had been chasing after something they saw in the hall. Curiously, the men claim they didn’t hear anything right before they reached Theodora’s door.

Analysis: Chapter 4

Eleanor’s behavior in Chapter 4 illustrates the theme of the fragility of identity. Eleanor’s fear of being treated like a child is a main driving force in her life, but it is also one she constantly battles and often gives in to. When she wakes after a restful first night in Hill House, Eleanor soothes her worries that she has done something foolish by calling herself “silly baby.” This is a label she rejects from others but is willing to wear only when it is self-imposed. Her resolve to not be so openly gracious when seeking the acceptance of others is a sign of her desire for growth. At breakfast, however, when the others refuse to let her dominate the conversation, she childishly pushes away her plate and mentally admonishes them for behaving like children. Later, her silent criticism of Theodora for sulking when she is hungry, tired, or bored again shows her own lack of self-awareness at her childish behavior. During the ghostly attack on her bedroom door, Eleanor laughs at Theodora’s fear and calls her a “big baby.” She then takes the lead, making sure Theodora is warm and shouting at the unseen force until it is quiet. In this act of maturity, Eleanor again attempts to shed her identity as the silly, scolded child who is constantly under the thumb of others.

During their second day in Hill House, the theme of the supernatural versus the psychological emerges as the group becomes more familiar with the house. Outside of the library, Eleanor is sickened by a horrible smell only she can detect, and it is unclear if she imagines it or if the house has meant only for her to notice it. Dr. Montague’s statements about the intentional slanted angles of the house offer a reasonable explanation for the disorientation they experience, and Luke suggests that it may cause people to perceive supernatural manifestations in the house. The cold spot in the nursery doorway, however, is unexplainable, and all four experience it. That night, both Eleanor and Theodora hear the pounding on the walls and laughter in the hallway. This detail suggests that the noises are paranormal and not psychologically induced. However, during the incident, Eleanor finds it strange that Theodora can hear the pounding too; it is as if she believes the noises are meant only for her. Neither Luke nor Dr. Montague heard anything out of the ordinary, but for most of the incident they were outside of the house chasing a potentially phantom dog. These details of the supernatural versus the psychological all obscure the true nature and source of the ghostly events in Hill House.