Warning: This list contains spoilers for The Haunting of Hill House.
Fans of the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House are diving deeper into all aspects of the show - including its psychology. Shortly after the release of Season 1, dozens of fan theories surfaced on the internet about the plot and the characters' motivations. One theory by Tumblr user cagedbirdsong has been particularly well-received, to the point that even the show's actors and director Mike Flanagan chimed in with their thoughts.
According to the theory, each Crain sibling represents one of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For those unfamiliar with the Kübler-Ross model, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed it in the 1960s to help explain the typical grieving process. Not everyone grieves in the same way, but patterns of grief do emerge. The five stages are meant to help people figure out how they are processing a severe loss, but the model is by no means a roadmap for how people should grieve.
This list takes a more in-depth look at the five Crain siblings and all the evidence in the series that proves they each represent a particular stage of grief.
Nell Represents Acceptance
The final stage of grief is acceptance of the loss as permanent and incorporating the recognition of that reality into your day-to-day life. This doesn't mean you're over the loss, just that you have acknowledged the weight of it and are trying to continue living to the best of your ability. No loss can be truly forgotten, but you can learn to carry on while still holding a place in your heart for your lost loved one.
When the series begins, Nell Crain is the first to acknowledge something is wrong in Hill House. She is plagued by the Bent-Neck Lady, telling her father and brother how she is haunted at night. These aren't just the imaginings of a scared child. More than anyone except perhaps her mother, Nell is subject to undeniable terrors throughout her life.
Even in adulthood, she can't escape the horror, as the Bent-Neck Lady appears to claim her beloved husband in front of her eyes. For Nell, whether Hill House is haunted is not a question - she never had the luxury of denial. She knew exactly what the house was and paid the ultimate price for it.
The Siblings' Birth Order Corresponds To The Stages Of Grief
One significant piece of evidence to support the stages-of-grief theory is the birth order of the five Crain children, which mimics their symbolic roles as the five stages of grief. As the oldest, Steven is the most cocksure and unwilling to believe his family's stories. He is in denial about the truth, but still co-ops those same stories to make a career for himself.
Shirley, the second oldest, is in constant conflict with her family, especially Steven and Theo. She butts heads with them throughout the series and holds a lot of grudges relating to that fateful night at Hill House. Middle child Theo's obsession with finding a rational explanation for the more outlandish family stories makes her a perfect symbol of bargaining.
Luke's addiction and the loss of Nell perfectly fit the mold of someone with depression. And Nell may be the youngest and the first of them to pass, but she can also accept the events at Hill House before any of her siblings.
The Siblings' Careers Also Fit Their Stages Of Grief
It's not just the characters who represent the stages of grief. Their chosen professions have symbolic meaning, too. As a writer, Steven transforms his family's unbelievable experiences into something he can better understand: fiction. Unable to accept the truth of the past, he chalks up his family's stories to works of the imagination and is not ashamed to profit from them.
Shirley still has unresolved anger about her mother's passing and the trauma she experienced as a child. As an adult, she chooses a job that is all about fixing shock and confronting loss. She's a mortician and has to hold in all her emotions when dealing with embalming her little sister. It's a task that breaks her and lets loose all her pent-up frustrations.
Similarly, Theo chooses a profession - child psychology - that involves healing. A "Smiling Man" haunts one of her young patients, and Theo uses her powers to learn the girl's foster father is abusing her. She makes sure the girl is no longer under the man's care, but she can't guarantee the girl won't end up in a similar situation in the future. It's the epitome of someone stuck in the bargaining stage: trying to make things better, but ultimately without a way to take it all back.
Luke doesn't have a career. He's hurting because of the things he saw as a child. His addiction and depression go hand in hand, and he's unable to move on with his life while he is a captive to both.
The series doesn't focus much on Nell's professional life, but it does offer a look at her love life. She seems to be the happiest of all the siblings, having mastered the art of acceptance. Only when her past comes back to haunt her does she lose her husband and that happiness.
The Actors Were Not Aware Of The Parallels While They Were Filming
With creator Mike Flanagan confirming the stages-of-grief theory as true, and fans everywhere picking up on the details, it might come as a surprise that the cast members themselves reportedly were not aware of their characters' connections to the five stages of grief during filming.
Victoria Pedretti, who plays Nell, told TV Guide, "I get what people are saying, the idea that we represent the various stages of grief, but it was never a discussion when we were working." It's possible the rest of the cast had no idea either.