Summary: Chapter 6

The next morning, Eleanor and Luke go outside, where Eleanor asks Luke to tell her something about himself. Luke reveals that he never had a mother, and that he sometimes wishes someone would make him grow up. Since Luke is the first man Eleanor has been alone with, her mind nervously races to figure out Luke’s intentions and character, settling on the idea that he’s selfish and shallow. Back inside, Luke discovers a book that Hugh Crain made for his daughters warning them to be pious. The book includes gory Goya paintings, graphic biblical images of people burning in hell, and a message from Crain written in his own blood. Disgusted, Theodora curses the book and Hill House. She then teases Eleanor about Luke, asking Eleanor whether she’ll invite him back to her apartment with her “cup of stars” after the study ends. Embarrassed, Eleanor runs outside, and Theodora guiltily follows.

Outside, the women find themselves on a black pathway surrounded by white trees. Theodora clutches Eleanor’s arm, and the two women feel a psychic connection as they move cautiously through the darkness. They come across a picnic scene with children. Scared, the women rush back inside, where Luke and Dr. Montague ask what happened. Theodora tries to talk but can’t complete her thoughts and Eleanor mutters something about a picnic.

Analysis: Chapter 6

At the opening of Chapter 6, Eleanor’s conversation with Luke again illustrates the theme of the fragility of identity, and more specifically, how lack of maternal love can fracture the self. Eleanor longs for Luke to question her about herself so that she may feel seen, or perhaps at a more interior level, so that she may better understand who she is. Her rapid thoughts reveal an inner battle in which she both desires and fears to know what Luke thinks about her, and she both longs for and rejects the possibility of his affection. Luke’s statement that he never had a mother incites indignation in Eleanor, though his admission that he is selfish shows that he is aware of his flaws. He is also aware of Eleanor’s own maternal wounds, and in telling her that she is lucky she had a mother, he mocks the source of Eleanor’s fractured identity.

The supernatural scene Eleanor and Theodora witness at the end of Chapter 6 symbolizes the group’s collective longing for home and family. Eleanor has had a cruel childhood and is looking for a place to belong. Theodora was isolated as a child and now wears her independence like a shield against affection. Luke’s motherless childhood has left him suspended in perpetual adolescence. Dr. Montague’s wish to read to children suggests an unfulfilled desire for children of his own. These psychological threads have revealed themselves during the group’s time at Hill House, and they now manifest in the dark and dangerous Gothic setting of Hill House’s grounds at night. As Eleanor and Theodora approach the garden, their anger toward one another slowly and increasingly gives way to fear. Each element of the setting—the stark white trees and grass against the black sky and dark, winding path—create a sense of isolation. The sudden appearance of a happy family picnicking in the colorful, sunlit garden is like a living snapshot of the idyllic family life each of them has longed for. Theodora, however, senses something terrifying encroaching from behind them, and they are forced to run through the supernatural scene and back into the darkness. However artificial it may be, this bright manifestation of home and family is lost to fear and darkness as quickly as it was found.