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.
Steven Represents Denial
Right after a significant loss, it's common to feel a sense of total shock and denial. The truth might not make sense right away, and your brain will push the incident to the back of your mind as if nothing is wrong. Denying the reality of the situation is a way to cope with the loss, but it's not a state you can stay in forever.
Steven Crain, the oldest child in the family, has a naturally skeptical personality that represents the denial stage of grief. Of everyone in the Crain family, Steven is the most resistant to conversations about the supernatural. In one of his first scenes, Steven, an author, tells a fan of his ghost stories that he's never seen a ghost.
In the same episode, we see glimpses into Steven's childhood that explain why he hasn't seen one. As a child, Steven was rescued from the house by his father, Hugh, without ever being exposed to a ghost. His dad shielded him from confronting the reality of Hill House, which stays with Steven into his adult life. Whenever someone tries to talk about the experiences they had in the house, Steven brushes off the stories without a second thought.
Near the end of the season, on their return to Hill House, Hugh keeps Steven from looking at the Tall Man. He's the last of the siblings to admit something unnatural happened to them as children, and this denial is central to his character.
Shirley Represents Anger
Anger, the second of the five stages of grief, is often tied closely to blame. You might lash out at those you feel are responsible for your loss. Now that you've moved past denial, it's common to start pushing your feelings onto external targets and putting the blame on them. Anger can be extreme, and you may say things to people you will eventually regret.
Shirley Crain is prone to bouts of frustration and anger. We see her aggression many times in the first episode, even back when she was a child. When trying to open the Red Door with Nell, she gets so angry at her failure that she ends up slapping the door as hard as she can. In the next scene, we see adult Shirley chastise Steven for not being available to help with family issues.
Shirley feels like she is always left to clean up after her family, and she is sick of it. She holds a lot of resentment for what happened at Hill House and isn't afraid to express it.
Theo Represents Bargaining
Bargaining as part of the grief process is the belief that you can somehow change things if you try hard enough. You may beg and plead for a loved one's soul to be saved or offer yourself up in exchange for the person you've lost. Bargaining is ultimately a futile act, as the end is an absolute that cannot be changed. Yet people still feel a natural push to try to fix whatever is broken, no matter how hopeless things might seem.
As a child psychologist, Theo Crain is always asking questions. Her supernatural gift plays a part as well, allowing her to learn truths through her sense of touch. But even though Theo can easily understand other people, she puts up massive walls when it comes to her issues. She believes she can rationalize everything and therefore not have to deal with the consequences of what happened at Hill House.
But Hill House doesn't care about her walls or solutions. After Nell's passing, everything Theo believes in starts to crash down around her. She eventually loses her ability to feel anything and begins pleading with the void to let her feel something again.
Luke Represents Depression
Depression is a normal part of the grieving process, despite those who might try to help you "snap out of it." Feeling the full weight of a loss can take months or even years. One of the scariest parts of depression is the feeling that it will never end.
Luke Crain is probably the most damaged character on the show, especially considering his problems with addiction. Everyone in the family agrees Luke seems to be stuck in a permanent low point, and because Nell was his twin, her passing appears to impact him the most.
He's also the sibling most cut off from the rest of the family, and isolation is a common symptom of depression. Steven can barely stand the thought of Luke after breaks into Steven's apartment, which drives Luke further into a spiral of self-loathing. Nell was one of the few people who could reach him, and after her departure, he feels utterly alone.