The Haunting of Hill House: Who We Become Haunts Us

The Haunting of Hill House is a new Netflix Original that has the right balance of scary and meaningfulness. The show creatively pairs terrific horror with feelings of coming of age which I discuss in this article. Be for warned that this article has spoilers in it, but if you still want to read more, then click below!

The Haunting of Hill House mirrors everybody’s life in the sense that everyone’s childhood shapes them for adulthood, but sometimes those memories and developments from childhood haunt us later on in adulthood. Often, in adulthood, we must change how we think and perceive things because it is abstract or ineffective in the real world, despite being effective in childhood. In order to overcome this haunting and change for the better, we must process our childhoods and understand why we are the way we are.

The entire Crain family is influenced and traumatized by the mother of the family, as well as other family dynamics, which carries on into each individual’s adulthood. The trauma and memories that they carry with them into adulthood has an effect on their current lives which haunts them and makes them struggle with daily life. Three of the children, Shirley, Luke and Theodora, are particularly haunted by their childhood and realize that they must come to terms with what happened in their past. By addressing their past, each sibling is able to figure out what is haunting them from childhood and make a change for the better. The show has an added twist of each sibling rationalizing the haunting they experienced in childhood which deters them in adulthood from bettering themselves. In a way, everyone experiences this to an extent, often it is daunting and scary to face who we really are causing us to avoid addressing our personal issues.

The eldest child in the family is Shirley Crain who demonstrates many of the common characteristics of an elder child. She is independent, righteous, strong, ambitious, a leader and a perfectionist, all of which is shown in her childhood and adulthood. It is pretty obvious that she developed these traits in childhood by being a strong role model for her siblings and often takes control of situations. While all these characteristics are admirable, Shirley has definitely gotten ahead of herself in adulthood and is haunted by who she has become. Primarily, she doesn’t want to be the one to make mistakes and displease her family, she has developed a habit of portraying herself as perfect despite being far from it.

Throughout the show, Shirley often sees a man in a suit toasting her as a part of her haunting. At the end of the show, we find out that he was a man she had an affair with at a conference many years ago. It becomes apparent that she is very ashamed of her affair, even though it was a one time occurrence, and feels the heavy weight of the secret. Although, sharing the secret with her husband could result in a world of issues for her family which she doesn’t want to face because it would tarnish her perfect image. I believe that Shirley feels really wrong about the affair because it goes against her righteous morals but she doesn’t want to face that she was wrong.

When she visits the house at the end of the show, she realizes the gravity of her affair. Shirley realizes that she was wrong, which goes against the self she thought she was, but everyone makes mistakes because we’re all human. Once she comes to this realization, she sits down with her husband and tells him exactly what happened. Of course she felt raw and vulnerable while doing so, but she was overcoming her haunting by admitting that the affair happened and was wrong to her husband.

Luke is one of the youngest children of the family and is the fraternal twin of Nell. Since childhood, Luke appears to be weak and timid, the glasses do a good job of demonstrating his vulnerability, but he is also very kind hearted. These traits have made him a great friend, especially to Nell, but he struggles with control issues which is heavily depicted later on.

In adulthood, Luke struggles with drug addiction which appears to have developed because of the constant haunting he experiences. The other siblings only seem to have haunting episodes every now and then but Luke is often followed by a floating man with a cane who he can’t shake no matter how hard he tries. His inability to control his haunting like the other siblings shows that he is meek in comparison.

When Luke goes back to the house, he has a close call with death as he nearly overdoses on heroin. He realizes that he could chose the easy way out, which is death, and join his mother in the house. Although, he comes around and understands that he’s been running from his problems and lack of control all along by being a drug addict. He chooses to live which pushes him out of his drug induced coma and overcomes his control issues by making the active choice to get clean and take control of his life.

Theodora Crain, or Theo for short, is the middle child of the family who has the ability to experience psychic knowledge of others by touching skin to skin. It is evident that experiencing other people’s psychic knowledge can be difficult and painful for Theo which is why she wears gloves the majority of the time. She is depicted several times experiencing others psychic knowledge and grows terrified of what she learns about others. As a result of her special ability, since childhood, Theo put up emotional walls between herself and others. In adulthood, she is incapable of forming romantic relationships with others because of the emotional walls she put up and often has one night stands with other women at clubs. Ironically, she is a child psychologist where she is very effective at connecting with her patients. Perhaps she enjoys the innocence of children which she cannot easily find in adults.

Later in the show Theo touches Nell’s dead body causing Theo to experience a numbness whereby she is unable to exercise her special talent of experiencing others psychic knowledge through skin to skin contact. She starts to drink excessively at the funeral in order to feel something other than numbness and even makes a pass at Shirley’s husband. She eventually regains her special talent back, however, she has learned that putting up emotional barriers isn’t always best. Sometimes it’s better to feel pain and sadness than nothing at all. After her final visit to the house, she moves past her emotional connection issues and even starts a healthy relationship with a persistent girl she had a one night stand with. It is obvious that she has overcome her fear of emotional connection because she moves out of her sister’s house and tosses her gloves.

As we can see in Shirley, Luke and Theo, every individual develops a certain way as a result of their childhood and becomes haunted by who they are at some point. I think everyone experiences this to an extent, some more than others, because we all have issues that developed in childhood that haunt us in adulthood. It is definitely scary to take a hard look at who we are, but when we do address our personal issues, we often make a change for the better and feel better about who we are. As the old saying goes, face your fears!

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I am a freelance writer situated in Toronto. I run a blog specializing in philosophy and opinion posts, occasionally tying in TV shows and movies. Feel free to email me at if you want to connect!

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