Trauma, Obsession, and the Importance of a Haven

The lack of a safe space in House of Leaves is a motif for many characters, namely Johnny and Navidson. Starting with Johnny in the Introduction, he says that all he wants is “a closed, inviolate, and most of all immutable space” (p.xix). The reader slowly learns (though is never sure what is true) about Johnny’s traumatic past with his mother, father, and foster father. He bears physical scars from it; he has been repressing what happened to him his whole life. Putting all of his energy into transcribing Zampano’s notes gives Johnny a purpose; his obsession of completing the project consumes him but also garners his ultimate hope that whatever he believes is following will stop so he can be at peace. Johnny never sees the house on Ash Tree Lane, but it haunts him. For example, shortly after starting his transcription, he starts speaking in metaphors that relate back to the house: “Inside me, a long dark hallway…continued to grow” (p.49). His apartment is not a haven, as he repeatedly points out in his rapidly degrading mental state; he more feels stuck there than safe. He struggles to find his place.

When the reader is introduced to Will Navidson, all he wants is to settle down after his tumultuous career. “Personally, I just want to create a cozy little outpost for me and my family. A place to drink lemonade on the porch and watch the sun set” (p.9), he says. Navidson is haunted by a subject (Delial), a starving child that he photographed (and won the Pulitzer Prize) but did not help. He is consumed with guilt and trying to find a way to live with it. All he wants is to document his return to normalcy; he gets anything but that. Although it starts out the way he hoped, peace does not last long with The Navidson Record’s title character (and his family). Once the house’s mystery is presented, Navy tries to solve it thinking it will become the haven he’d hoped for (and needs) in the end. However, he also battles himself throughout the book. He constantly defends his obsession with the house (to Karen mostly) by saying “…going after something like this is who I am” (p.389). He can’t deny that he is intrigued by the dangerous closet hallway and the anomaly consumes him. In the midst of trying to solve the mystery, he attempts to seek solace from Karen (who is cold and not a source of peace) and Tom (who Navidson looks up to, but any solace that was found in him is dissipated when he is swallowed up by the house).

The lack of a haven leads these characters to put their energies into solving the mystery of the house, which leads to insanity and despair, but ultimately to resolution. Both Johnny and Navidson seem calm and contented with their lives at the book’s conclusion after the house has imploded, therefore not plaguing their minds any longer. Both have found their safe space.

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