Summary: Chapter 5

The next morning, Eleanor comments that while she remembers being frightened the night before, she doesn’t actually remember feeling frightened. Luke admits that he feels the same. While getting coffee, Luke discovers the words HELP ELEANOR COME HOME written in chalk in the hall. Eleanor panics at the thought that the house knows her name. Theodora suggests that Eleanor wrote the message herself, which sets off an argument. The following morning, Luke helps Dr. Montague attempt to measure the cold spot in the nursery. Later, Theodora returns to her room and discovers that all of her clothing has been torn down from the hangers and ruined, and the words HELP ELEANOR COME HOME ELEANOR have been written across her wall in blood. Eleanor seems unmoved by the incident and says that maybe the words were written in red nail polish or paint, not blood. 

Theodora moves to Eleanor’s room and borrows Eleanor’s clothing. Secretly, Eleanor hates seeing Theodora wear her clothes. Dr. Montague reassures everyone by saying that ghosts can’t hurt them—the only thing that can cause physical harm is fear. Eleanor reveals that she wants to surrender to the house, which worries Dr. Montague. Later, Eleanor hears a child being tortured in the next room as she drifts in and out of sleep. She clutches what she believes is Theodora’s hand for comfort. Later, Eleanor wakes to find Theodora beside her but out of arm’s reach, and Eleanor wonders whose hand she had been holding.

Analysis: Chapter 5

The supernatural versus the psychological is a large thematic focus of Chapter 5, in which Dr. Montague explains fear’s role in ghost hauntings. His claim that the conscious mind is indestructible triggers hope for the Hill House residents. His statement that ghosts cannot hurt people, but that only people can hurt themselves, however, is a warning that also foreshadows Eleanor’s demise. In the first supernatural episode of the chapter, when Eleanor’s name first appears on the wall of the house, her fear quickly turns into anger toward and resentment of her companions. During the second incident, when Theodora’s room and clothing are covered in blood, Eleanor appears to remain calm and insists that she’s not afraid, but she also questions her own coherence. Soon after, her thoughts reveal an alarming deterioration of her mental state. Her desire to act violently toward Theodora and take pleasure in her death display a dangerous side of her mind. That night, her inherent familiarity with the voice of the crying, shrieking child she hears suggests that perhaps it is the voice of her own child self. Eleanor’s increasing emotions and psychosis appear to be directly tied to the supernatural events occurring in the house.

In this chapter, Jackson’s portrayal of Eleanor as the flawed and outcast Gothic hero comes into full focus. Eleanor is cast as the house’s primary victim when her name first appears on the wall. The house, which is oppressive and has a history of contributing to women’s deaths, has apparently chosen Eleanor, the weakest of the group, to prey upon. Eleanor’s babbling disclosure that she is dissolving and wishes to surrender is evidence that she is falling under the influence of the dangerously alluring Gothic villain: the house itself. Her companions also further contribute to her role as outcast when they band together against her. Though they are more patronizing than vicious, their shared view of Eleanor as attention-seeking and vain bonds them and sets Eleanor apart. As the outsider in this small group, Eleanor is more vulnerable not only to the house but also to her own devastating flaws.