In the first fairy tale Eleanor tells herself while on her way to Hill House, she sees a large house with, “a pair of stone lions guarding the steps”. In her imagination, not only do the lions serve as her protection, but there is a nightlight which also guards her from the hall as she sleeps and this too offers her addition protection. This desire to be taken care of, as expressed through the details of Eleanor’s first dream world, echoes throughout the novel. Perhaps Jackson’s description of Eleanor’s imagination is meant to foreshadow the events which unfold at Hill House as Eleanor continues to search for some place to call home. Along with her stone lions and nightlight, there is also an “little dainty old lady” who serves as Eleanor’s caregiver. Eleanor’s in depth vision even includes the thoughts of the old woman providing her with a glass of elderberry wine each evening for her health’s sake. This elderly woman functions in the role of a caregiver, and a maternal figure to Eleanor, which is something she has not had for the past eleven years as she cared for her mother in her poor health. Eleanor finds protection and a caregiver in this instance, but she also fantasizes about the respect and social status she might gain from the townspeople. She images that everyone in the town will be proud of her lions. Eleanor might seem to life a fairly solitary life in this fairy tale. She is taken care of by others, protected, and respected by those in her community. This fantasy of Eleanor’s is a direct contrast to her reality.
The second fairy tale Eleanor conjures up while on her route to Hill House takes place in the setting of a field she passes, which contains oleander trees that surround a gateway of ruined stone pillars that are also in the field. This large covered gateway is yet another example of Eleanor’s desire for protection shown through her dream world. Eleanor images the oleander trees are there due to the “gateway they protected” and she states they even guard the land “from the eyes of people passing”. Her story escalates into imaging that if she were to enter through the protective barrier of the oleander trees, which serves as the protective barrier between the magic gateposts, a garden will be revealed. Again, Eleanor envisions herself encountering the same stone lions from her first fantasy. This repetition of the appearance of the stone lions show the significance of Eleanor’s attraction towards protection. As her narration continues, she images that she enters into a courtyard in which a queen waits for her. The queen serves as another mother figure in Eleanor’s imagination. In her role, the queen is the one in waiting, waiting and hoping that her princess will return. Eleanor’s descriptions of the patient queen and even her reaction to her as she returns as a princess are reflective of how Eleanor wishes she had been treated and valued by her own mother. This section of her fantasy is similar to the perceived respect shown by the appreciation of other townspeople in her first fantasy. In this dream world, it is clear that Eleanor views herself as an individual worthy of respect and also as someone who desires to live “happily ever after”. There is even a prince in awe of Eleanor’s power, but Eleanor ends the fairy tale here and refuses to let herself imagine actually meeting with the prince. This short segment of romance that is quickly discontinued is evidence to suggest that what Eleanor desires being recognized as a powerful and respectable individual, more than a romance.
As she continues to on her journey to Hill House, even small homes fuel her imagination. They appeal to her in a way which makes her curious of possibly being able to afford her own place, and finally find her own freedom and power. She drives past a “tiny cottage buried in a garden” and images herself living her all alone. At her own house she says she will even plant oleanders by the road, and one can infer from her previous fantasies that she desires this to serve as a form of protection from the outside world. Eleanor also imagines herself raising cats and sewing curtains for her windows. A reader could interpret this to be a detailed description of Eleanor taking time for self-care, which she could never afford when taking care of her mother. She goes on to say that people come to her in order to have “their fortunes told” and to receive “love potions for sad maidens” that Eleanor has created. This is another example of how Eleanor fantasizes of being in a position of power and respect as others come to her to seek out their own fortunes and to have her heal their relationships. Eleanor images herself to be someone that others admire and come to because of her attributes, and not because they wish to control her.
The “cup of starts” episode, though not quite a fairy tale, also relates to many themes Eleanor explores through her other fantasies. When Eleanor stops for lunch on the way to Hill House, she encounters a mother explaining to their waitress that her daughter is crying because she “want[s] her cup of stars,” that is actually just a cup that has stars at the bottom of it, which the young girl drinks her milk from at home. When Eleanor observes this encounter, and hears the mother pleading to her daughter to simply compromise her wants and drink the milk from another glass, Eleanor communicates to her: “don’t do it…insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don’t do it”. Eleanor addresses the idea of independence in this episode. Even though it is framed as a teachable moment for the little girl, Eleanor is actual talking to herself and telling herself that she must not compromise on having her “cup of stars.” Perhaps this advice is directed at who Eleanor hopes to become in the future, apart from her mother and her sister. This episode of Eleanor’s is the perfect set up to show another example of her rebellion against paternalism. Just as she tells the little girl to disobey her mother and insist on her “cup of stars,” she also stops in the town of Hillsdale despite doctor Montague’s warning to not do so.
Eleanor’s story telling is not limited to her journey to Hill House. Once at Hill House, Eleanor continues to utilize stories to boost her own confidence and also to shape the opinions of others she meets. Eleanor tells Theodora “I have a little place of my own” and that she “had to look for weeks before [she] found [her] little stone lions on each corner of the mantel”. She even tells Theodora that she once had a blue cup with stars painted on the inside. In the beginning of the novel, Eleanor only told these stories to herself, but once at Hill House, she shares elements of each of her fantasies with her companions in an attempt to recreate herself in their eyes. More importantly, Eleanor continues to tell these stories in hopes of it actually altering her own reality. It is through story telling that Eleanor seeks to author herself and authorize herself to become the liberated, powerful person she wishes so badly to be. Eleanor’s fantasies make her feel as though she is independent and in control of her own life, and this is the complete opposite of the life she lived before coming to Hill House. Sadly, Hill House breaks through the barriers of her dream worlds and her attempts to recreate herself at it begins to possess her thoughts and derail her ability to create imaginative narratives.
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