Tag Archives: allusions

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

Haunting of Hill House by Shirley JacksonI am currently re-reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson in anticipation of teaching it very shortly to my students. While I did a longform write up/thematic analysis of the novel after I read it last August, I wanted to (try to) write more involved chapter summaries, like the ones I attempted for War of the Worlds and The Martian Chronicles. We’ll see how far I get with Hill House; it’s pretty dense, so I’m already worried.

Below is a plot synopsis divided into sections based on the text, a list of characters introduced in Chapter 1, and then, an analysis of symbols and allusions that appear in the chapter. The house is practically a character, but since it’s technically inanimate it’s not on the official character list. I think it’s ultimately debatable though since the house does appear animate.

I’m not going to intentionally post information about the end of the novel, but this is written from the perspective of someone who is re-reading the novel. I sincerely wonder if anyone aside from teachers and students will find this interesting, but it will sure help me with my teaching, so here we go.

This post ended up being massive, so I built in a bit of navigation:

Chapter 1, Section 1
Chapter 1, Section 2
Chapter 1, Section 3
Chapter 1, Section 4
Chapter 1, Section 5
Symbols and Literary Elements


In a novel that’s a very slow burn, the first chapter of the nine that make up the novel opens with a personified description of the eponymous Hill House. The house is “not sane,” eighty years old, and is “holding darkness within” (1). The last sentence of the opening paragraph that states “whatever walked there, walked alone” is absolutely terrifying (1). It’s repeated at the end, but the book itself is full of an almost-unnerving amount of repetition.

Section 1

The reader then learns the basic premise of the story, that Dr. Montague has rented the house for three months in order to investigate paranormal events alleged to have occured at Hill House. He is forced to hire assistants, presumably because there’s too much work for one person to do alone. Dr. Montague compiles a list of people who have been involved in “abnormal events” and invites them to the house (2). Hilariously, he eliminates the dead and those of “subnormal intelligence,” so when Eleanor’s sister isn’t invited it’s a very clever way of implying that she’s stupid. He is also forced to bring someone from the family who owns the house, along with the two people who actually respond to his letter.

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The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Chapter 1 “Between Timid and Timbuktu”

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt VonnegutBelow is a detailed summary and literary analysis of the first chapter of The Sirens of Titan for my students and for me … and for you. It is very long. As a side note, this post has been more popular than I ever expected, and I suspect people are Googling “summary of Sirens of Titan Chapter 1 that is better than Sparknotes,” because the search results are leading me to feel this way, and I’m flattered. Wayward students: please use my research as a supplement, but don’t rob yourself of the pleasure of reading the novel yourself. Also feel free to ask me questions in the comments, I’m always happy to help.

Chapter 1 of The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut is entitled “Between Timid and Timbuktu.”


Malachi Constant: “I guess somebody up there likes me.” Described in Ch. 1 as a playboy and depicted as an oaf (complete with clamoring up a fountain and being late for his appointment with someone “unstuck” in space-time) he is dressed as an “Edwardian dandy” and is “not even well-educated.” Malachi is described as a “well-made man” but also with a “Cro-Magnon brow-ridge.” He is thirty-one years old and worth three billion dollars, “most of it inherited.” He is intimidated by Winston Niles Rumfoord the moment they shake hands even through Rumfoord does not exist in any traditional sense of the word.

Beatrice Rumfoord aka Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord: She is thirty-four and has seventeen million dollars to her name. She is a “poetess” and the title of the chapter is a reference to her “reasonable well received” poetry collection of the same time. The collection – and arguably the novel – is a reference to time. The first (and only) time she met with her materialized husband he gave her news that was so unpleasant that she now refuses to see him. She is described as “marvelous” looking, but is described in the most unflattering terms, much like Constant, whom she detests. Her name is clearly a reference to Dante and The Divine Comedy, specifically Paradiso.

Winston Niles Rumfoord: While in his “private space ship” he and his mastiff (dog) Kazak intersected with a “chrono-synclastic infundibulum” and are now non-materialized, destined to forever appear on Earth every 59 days. He is described now as a “wave” and is – to use another Vonnegut term – “unstuck” in time, meaning that he can see the future as well as the past, and thus is bored. Rumfoord knows Constant from Titan (a moon of Saturn as Mrs. Rumfoord explains) and has requested his presence during the materialization that launches the novel. Rumfoord is genial and dignified to a degree that humbles Constant completely and Rumfoord is described only in glowing terms in the first chapter. He can read minds but, as he reminds Constant, he cannot “reproduce” (so Freudian), then again, as he explains, “Angels can’t either.”

Chrono: The son of Constant and Mrs. Rumfoord who is born on Mars (in the future) and whose “good-luck piece” is, as Mr. Rumfoord states, “unbelievably important.”

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