My name is Noah Leve. I am in the Cinema and Communications profile in the ALC program. I have loved my time studying film and exploring my interests at Dawson which has led me to pursue Political Science in university next year. I wrote this essay after a semester of reading and analyzing the work of Shirley Jackson. I began by searching for a clear link between the three stories. I came away with greater insight into the life of the esteemed and truly modern author. The journeys she imagined for her protagonists inspire me to create my own.
The Agency to Self-Create in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House,
Come Along with Me, and “Louisa, Please Come Home”
By Noah Leve
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House presents a woman, Eleanor Vance, who is attempts to transform her own identity. She does not know how she wants to change, but she knows that a transformation is inevitable when she travels to Hill House. Eleanor shares similar desires to Angela Motorman from Jackson’s Come Along with Me and Lois Taylor from “Louisa, Please Come Home,” whose objectives and visualization of achieving those objectives come from a need to gain complete control over one’s life by self-definition. After a physical and emotional journey, the characters cannot back out of their decision to transform, and this change leaves them with the sole option of adapting to their new surroundings, both in body and in mind. In Jackson’s works, the protagonists escape from their families which enables them to obtain greater freedom. They also exhibit the self-consciousness to recognize the apocalyptic nature of their lives. Finally, the mobility of the characters reflects their individuality. Jackson uses one-way journeys to convey the characters’ agency to self-create one’s identity thus leading to their serenity in accepting a perceived home.
Through escape from the protagonists’ families, the characters consciously select their parental figures allowing them to obtain their freedom. The pursuit of this liberty is especially relevant in the studies of Shirley Jackson because this theme was not a common one explored from the female perspective in the 1950s. All the parental figures these women select exhibit traits of supportiveness and protection. In “Louisa, Please Come Home,” Louisa Tether becomes “an entirely new person” by moving to Chandler where she turns into Lois Taylor (“Louisa” 22). Mrs. Peacock, her landlady, “[makes] herself personally responsible” for Lois, taking the role of her mother. In the final sequence when her parents fail to recognize their daughter, she feels comfort in her change of identity reinforcing her success in becoming untethered and choosing a companion. Despite being in a different stage of life, Angela Motorman from Come Along with Me goes through a similar journey following the death of Hughie, her husband, where her clairvoyance was restricted. In response, she creates a relationship with her landlady, Mrs. Faun, that enables the heightening of her individuality through seances. Despite this relationship differing from Lois and Mrs. Peacock’s companionship, Mrs. Faun’s parental stature is featured through her capacity to lodge Mrs. Motorman and her behaviour, such as baking for her tenant, is synonymous with caring even though she charges for such services. However, Mrs. Motorman’s needs are not bound to her landlady suggesting that she is free of external approval. She gains control of her desires through her confidence to express that “[she makes] the law, which so many people do not” (Come Along 32). Finally, Eleanor Vance in The Haunting of Hill House leaves her sister’s home, without completely leaving her family. She believes her “mother is knocking on the wall” at Hill House which may symbolize her attribution of maternal qualities to the house (Hill House 93). When Eleanor “[relinquishes her] possession of this self of [hers],” she consciously accepts the will of the house on herself allowing her to hear a child’s soft singing (150). Through this supernatural phenomenon, Jackson may suggest that the child represents the clarification of her inner needs. Eleanor’s actions match the child’s words to “go in and out the windows,” implying that she is free to listen to herself without the fear of others’ judgement (167). In all cases, the act of housing someone may be considered a trait of a parental figure.
Through a pattern of repetitive thoughts of anticipation of their environment, Jackson’s characters possess the self-consciousness to recognize the apocalyptic nature of their lives resulting in a controlled rebirth. Despite the characters often feeling overburdened with external attention, all these women show grit in their pursuit of control. Eleanor views her life as a fairy-tale as she repeats “journeys end in lovers meeting”; the audience’s expectations of who that lover may be is subverted by her belief that she will fall in love with Luke (66). However, this never materializes, and it is the house that gives attention to Eleanor. This allows her to transform from someone who is afraid of “[making] a fool of [herself]” to a person that takes possession of “her own dear name” (68, 118). This initiative symbolizes the end of one life, and the beginning of a new person that “can hear everything, all over the house,” and that no longer fears external opinions (152). Similarly, Lois imagines her biological mother as a caring person through the annual radio announcement of a plead to return home; Jackson suggests that her parents miss an idea of her, and any physical shape is inadequate. Upon her return home where she is unrecognized by her parents, she is composed enough to understand that “there [is] never any chance of looking like Louisa again;” she exists solely in the minds of her parents meaning that Lois can live in peace (“Louisa” 24). Angela Motorman’s rebirth is the most explicit of the stories analyzed when she says her name out loud for the first time (Come Along 17). There are remnants of her previous identity’s anxiety. This resembles Eleanor’s obsession with knowing the perception she gives off to the external world where Mrs. Motorman “[wonders] if anyone [is] laughing at [her]” on the bus (15). The death of her husband prompts her to understand the overvaluation of material objects leading to a sale of her possessions and a search for a new home. Although these characters find physical locations to live, it is not their outside bodies that make a place home, but the way they perceive it in their minds.
The characters’ mobility reflect their individuality allowing them to persist in their quest for emotional security. These three women show remarkable resourcefulness in their own era to use movement to define the purpose of their lives. Angela Motorman’s mobility is exemplified by her habit of “following people,” and it is also reflected in her choice of the name “Motorman” (Come Along 31). This is significant because the story is set during the increased possibility for movement by car in the United States. The act of renaming herself reflects this mobility and newfound individuality. She can look at people without fear of “the possibility of finding out that other people have real faces” because she gains confidence in her own honesty and that of others (14). Louisa also takes advantage of the opportunity to move around through the country to escape. She finds more comfort in conformity than Mrs. Motorman as she tries to “[behave] just like everyone else, and [dress] just like everyone else, and even [think] like everyone else” because it allows her to escape (“Louisa” 20). When her biological parents tell her to “go back to the people who love [her],” Lois thinks of Mrs. Peacock symbolizing her serenity in Chandler (25). Eleanor travels to fulfill her need of belonging and entrusts Hill House with that task. Her initiative to leave is an act of faith meaning that she is the only character of the three stories that actively relinquishes control of herself to gain greater freedom. Eleanor embraces the house by surrendering to it; by accepting her own fear, she can “see perfectly the sensible, beautiful not-afraid side of the world” (117). This greater clarity in perceiving the world through the bigger picture makes Eleanor unique in the feeling that “Hill House belongs to [her]” (181). This distinct characteristic explains why she “[dances] gravely before Hugh Crain;” she demonstrates her freedom of expression to the person who built her perceived home (171).
Clearly, the protagonists in all three stories use the escape from their families to determine the base of their new identities. Creating a new self implies the destruction of a previous one. This apocalypse occurs at different stages in each story. In “Louisa, Please Come Home,” the full transition takes place when Lois is unrecognizable to her biological parents. In Come Along with Me, Mrs. Motorman begins a journey with no name meaning that Jackson looks at the consequences of such a change in identity. Finally, Eleanor finds comfort at Hill House before her expulsion and death. In every story, the women use their agency to find serenity in their emotional state aided by the physical home. This is relevant in the studies of Jackson’s work because she reveals the difficulty of acquiring the freedom of personal identity for herself and other women of her era, and still today.
Jackson, Shirley. “Come Along with Me.”  Come Along with Me, Penguin. 2013.
—. “Louisa, Please Come Home.” Dark Tales. Penguin. 2016.
—. The Haunting of Hill House. Penguin, 1959.