The Haunting Fate of Eleanor Crain: A Character Analysis of the Haunting of Hill House


On the left Elenor Crain, played by Victoria Padretti, on the right young Elenor Crain, played by Violet McGraw. Image from @TheHaunting on instagram, the shows Instagram page

Jessica Espinoza Diaz, Social Media Manager

As with most humans, we often all share common experiences, whether those experiences be traumatic or pleasant. Even if we haven’t experienced something, we can all empathize with characters we feel akin to. Such is the case with the wonderfully well-rounded character of Eleanor Crain in the Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House.” The mystery miniseries allows the audience to slowly build relationships with the Crain kids as we watch them grow up before our eyes, with Eleanor being one of the youngest. She is often overlooked or dismissed by her family who never listen to her. Her character is not without flaw, though, and can be just as selfish and self-centered as her siblings; however, this characteristic is not her downfall. The feeling of being unheard by those around you is a relatable human experience we have all felt at one point in our lives.

Before further analyzing her character, we should summarize her purpose in the series. Eleanor Crain, or as her family affectionately nicknamed her, Nelly, is a tragic character. She is the second youngest of five siblings. In her childhood at Hill House, she is often haunted by “The Bent-Neck Lady,” a gray ghost with a protruded bone sticking out the side of her neck. Eventually, the Crain children lose their mother to the insanity of the house, ultimately moving in with their aunt. In adulthood, we see that she is still struggling with the constant apparitions of “The Bent-Neck Lady.” She describes to Arthur, her eventual husband, that the ghost often appears during her sleep paralysis. During their conversation she points out, “It’s nice to be listened to.” (“The Bent-Neck Lady.”) One morning, during a paralysis, Arthur has an aneurysm and quickly passes away as Nelly lies there, helplessly watching her husband die. “The Bent-Neck Lady” appears for the first time in years, seemingly mocking her. Stricken by grief and depression, she seeks comfort from her family, but they remain too self-absorbed in their issues to listen to Nelly as she is slowly losing her mind. Eventually, she returns to the source of all her trauma, Hill House, where she is convinced by the then insane ghost of her mother to hang herself. As she dies, she returns to all the traumatic scenes of the haunting of “The Bent-Neck Lady” only to realize that it was her all along and this was her destiny. Nelly was a character who was bound for tragedy since the first appearance of “The Bent-Neck Lady.” She was a character who is very relatable as we have all felt unheard by someone in our time of need.

The surprising revelation of Nelly’s ghost being her all along is gut-wrenchingly tragic and sickening. To see her character go from a scared little girl to a de-pressed and unheard adult helped the audience build empathy for her, especially as we see her struggle and eventually give up. However, upon realizing that she was “The Bent-Neck Lady” all along, the audience realizes that she could not be helped, and her fate was cemented the moment her family moved to Hill House. The most heart-wrenching scene to embody this idea during the series runtime must be during the episode “Two Storms.” During the episode we see the Crain family preoccupied with trying to get the power back on in the house, while the struggling Nelly disappears, causing the family to separate and look for her throughout the house before ultimately getting distracted by their own obstacles. At the end of the episode, Nelly reappears, sobbing in the same spot she had disappeared in. She tells her family, “I was right here, and I was screaming and shouting and none of you could see me. Why can’t you see me? I waved and jumped and screamed and you didn’t even look. None of you even looked.” (“Two Storms.”) This quote embodies her character perfectly. In this instance she asks her family “why couldn’t you see me,” and the answer was they were too preoccupied with their own lives to give her what she needed. No matter how hard she tried to cry for help to those around her, they paid her no attention, except for the audience who saw her, listened to her, but could not help. Instead, we watch the inevitable tragedy run its course.

Eleanor Crain’s character is a tragic one, and from the start of the series, we can see her character is meant to die. Her sole purpose in the story is for her death to be used as a steppingstone to urge her siblings to uncover the truth and heal from the trauma of Hill House. Yet, the audience cannot help but feel empathy for her as we follow her from childhood to adulthood, from life to death. The audience sees Nelly’s transformation into a completely different being as she is reunited in death with her parents, doomed to rot within the walls of Hill House, together, for eternity.