This section contains 2,330 words
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The House of the Seven Gables Summary & Study Guide Description
The House of the Seven Gables Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Bibliography on The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Ned Higgins, a young boy, is Hepzibah's first shop customer. He is a repeat customer who enjoys the shop's gingerbread cookies. When Phoebe returns from her visit home and later discovers that the judge has died in the parlor, Ned warns her that something wicked has happened in the house. As Hepzibah, Clifford, Phoebe, and Holgrave leave to take up residence at the judge's country estate, Hepzibah gives Ned money.
Holgrave is a resident in one of the gables in the House of the Seven Gables. The narrator describes him as "a slender young man, not more than one or two and twenty years old, with a rather grave and thoughtful expression, for his years, but likewise a springy alacrity and vigor." He is exceptionally supportive of Hepzibah's opening of the cent shop. Holgrave falls in love with Phoebe and, in the final chapter, reveals that he is a descendent of Matthew Maule. Toward the end of the story, Holgrave tells Clifford, Hepzibah, and Phoebe where the now worthless deed to the Maine land can be found. Holgrave is a young and passionate character whose politics run contrary to the conservative ideals that the aristocratic Hepzibah embraces. Both professionally and personally, he represents the coming of the modern age and the retiring of past traditions. Although he has dabbled in several occupations, including dentistry and teaching, Holgrave is now a daguerreotypist, or a photographer. His profession represents the way in which he is a forward thinker who enjoys the changes brought by technology. Unlike Clifford, who is at first nostalgic about the past, Holgrave favors the future. Like his ancestor, Matthew Maule, Holgrave has the power of mesmerism, or the ability to hypnotize people. Unlike the younger Matthew Maule, Holgrave does not use this power in harmful ways against other people, specifically Phoebe.
Matthew Maule (The Elder)
Matthew Maule is the first owner of the land upon which the House of the Seven Gables is eventually built. He is not a man of great wealth or power, yet he stands up against Colonel Pyncheon and refuses to give him his land. As a result, Maule is put on trial for practicing witchcraft and is ultimately convicted and hung. Just before his death, Maule curses Colonel Pyncheon, who watches the proceedings from horseback. Maule says, "God will give him blood to drink." When Pyncheon dies mysteriously after building a home on Maule's land, the curse is believed by some to be the reason. Maule's son, Thomas, served as the architect of the House of the Seven Gables.
Matthew Maule (The Younger)
The younger Matthew Maule is the grandson of Matthew Maule (the elder). His father, Thomas Maule built the House of the Seven Gables. The younger Matthew Maule makes a deal with Gervayse Pyncheon, telling him that he will tell him where the legendary deed is for the land in Maine in trade for the House of the Seven Gables. Using his powers of mesmerism, Matthew hypnotizes Alice Pyncheon, Gervayse's daughter, and conjures the spirits of Colonel Pyncheon, the elder Matthew Maule, and Thomas Maule. The Maule spirits thwart his efforts and refuse to let the Colonel tell him where the papers are hidden. Matthew Maule (the younger) cancels the deal with Gervayse but keeps Alice Pyncheon under his spell. He makes her do humiliating things and eventually, releasing her from his spell, allows her to walk home improperly clothed for snow. She dies as a result.
Thomas Maule is the son of Matthew Maule (the elder) and the father of Matthew Maule (the younger). He is the architect that built the House of the Seven Gables. When Thomas builds the house, he hides the deed to the legendary land in Maine behind the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon.
Alice Pyncheon is the daughter of Gervayse Pyncheon, the granddaughter of Colonel Pyncheon, and Phoebe's great-great-grand-aunt. Hepzibah describes her as "exceedingly beautiful and accomplished." Alice is hypnotized by the younger Matthew Maule and forced to act in embarrassing and humiliating ways, including waiting on his bride. Once Alice is released from Matthew's spell, she walks home inappropriately clothed for the snow and dies. The flowers that grow in between two of the gables are said to have been sprinkled there by Alice. They are called Alice's Posies. Sometimes the sounds of her harpsichord are said to be heard in the house.
Clifford Pyncheon is Hepzibah's brother and Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's cousin. After being framed by his cousin for the murder of his uncle, Old Jaffrey Pyncheon, Clifford is imprisoned for thirty years. He returns to the House of the Seven Gables following his imprisonment and is cared for by Hepzibah and Phoebe. Prior to his incarceration, Clifford is a man of privilege who enjoys all that is beautiful. This quality persists in him and is evident in his inability to look at his unattractive, scowling sister and his desire to quit the "dismal house" for finer accommodations in the South of France and Italy. He fancies Phoebe and seems to lose himself in the sensual undertaking of eating. Following his imprisonment, Clifford is a changed man. No longer masculine or mature, he is characterized by the narrator as feminine and childlike. When readers first meet Clifford, he is described as elderly and spiritless. The narrator writes "It was the spirit of the man, that could not walk" as though he "must have suffered some miserable wrong from its earthly experience." Early in the novel, Clifford is enamored of the past and watches wistfully from the arched window as modern inventions pass. He wishes to recover the life that is symbolized by the "antique fashions of the street." His past, however, is lost. After finding Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon dead, Clifford seems more equipped to embrace the future. As he and Hepzibah flee by train, he talks with a fellow traveler and lauds the advances of modern science and technology. Clifford's new attitude toward technology and his inherited wealth from Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon foretell a brighter future for him as well as for Hepzibah, Phoebe, and Holgrave, who all move out of the House of the Seven Gables to the judge's estate.
Colonel Pyncheon is the man who had the House of the Seven Gables built 160 years before the action of the story takes place. He built the house on a piece of land that first belonged to Matthew Maule (the elder). Colonel Pyncheon was instrumental in having the elder Matthew Maule put to death for witchcraft. As a result of Matthew's death, Colonel Pyncheon was able to seize the land that he had long tried to obtain from Matthew. On the day that Colonel Pyncheon hosts a grand house warming party with many important community members in attendance, he is found dead in his study. In the story that unfolds, Colonel Pyncheon's portrait still hangs in the house and the legend of the Pyncheon and Maule conflict serves as the basis for one of Hawthorne's themes, which is that the sins of the past are carried down through successive generations. Like the Colonel, two other Pyncheon men die of apoplexy, an unexpected hemorrhage.
Gervayse is Colonel Pyncheon's son and Alice Pyncheon's father. In the story that Holgrave relates to Phoebe, Gervayse is said to have returned from Europe and begun to search for the deed to the land in Maine that the Colonel was in the process of acquiring at the time of his death. Gervayse summons the younger Matthew Maule to the house and makes a deal to give him the House of the Seven Gables in exchange for information about the missing deed. Matthew (the younger) then hypnotizes Alice, who eventually dies due in part to his mistreatment of her. Gervayse's greed can be blamed for his daughter's death.
Hepzibah is the struggling spinster heroine of the novel. She resides in the House of the Seven Gables. She is Clifford's sister and Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's niece. In the novel, she represents "old Gentility" with a reverence for the past and her previously well-to-do life. The narrator describes her "cherished and ridiculous consciousness" of her privileged ancestry, "her shadowy claims to princely territory." He recounts her accomplishments as having "thrummed on a harpsichord, and walked a minuet, and worked an antique tapestry-stitch on her sampler." As an aristocrat who has fallen into poverty, Hepzibah must save herself from complete financial destitution by opening a cent-shop in her home. The townspeople have little compassion for her and suspect her enterprise will fail. For the most part, the residents of the town seem to dislike Hepzibah. The narrator writes "they cared nothing for her dignity, and just as little for her degradation." She is an unattractive woman who has a perpetual scowl. Her rough and unapproachable exterior, however, hides a tender heart. She is deeply devoted to her brother and holds deep hatred and contempt for her cousin. Hepzibah's impoverished existence seems to better her. The narrator writes "she had been enriched by poverty, developed by sorrow . . . and endowed with heroism, which never could have characterized her in what are called happier circumstances."
Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon (The Younger)
Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon is Hepzibah and Clifford's cousin and the nephew of old Jaffrey Pyncheon. The judge dies toward the end of the book, and because his son dies from cholera, Clifford inherits the judge's riches. Prior to becoming a judge, the younger Jaffrey Pyncheon facilitated the death of his uncle. While the young Jaffrey was rifling through the old man's papers, the elder Jaffrey Pyncheon happened upon him and died of apoplexy. The younger Jaffrey destroyed a newly revised version of the elder Jaffrey's will, which favored Clifford, and successfully framed Clifford for their uncle's death. The judge later assists in Clifford's release from jail and his return to the House of the Seven Gables in hopes that he can help him locate papers that will point him to the remainder of their uncle's estate. As the narrator tells us, the judge was "reckoned rather a dissipated youth, but had at once reformed, and made himself an exceedingly respectable member of society." He served in an "inferior court" and later "served a part of two terms in Congress." Despite living a life "befitting the christian, the good citizen, the horticulturist, and the gentleman," Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's status as a good man is a farce. Hawthorne evidences this fact by drawing strong comparison's between the judge and Colonel Pyncheon. When shown Holgrave's photograph of the judge, Phoebe mistakes him for the Colonel, and the narrator comments of their likeness:
It implied that the weaknesses and defects, the bad passions, the mean tendencies, and the moral diseases which lead to crime, are handed down from one generation to another, by a far surer process of transmission than human law has been able to establish, in respect to the riches and honors which it seeks to entail upon posterity.
Like the Colonel, the judge is motivated by his own greed and strong desire for self-aggrandizement. He is a selfish, deceitful, and cruel man. His apparently benevolent attempts to help Clifford and Hepzibah are as false as the smiles he presents to the public. In the end, the public learns (albeit) through rumors, about his hand in the old Jaffrey Pyncheon's death and Clifford's imprisonment.
Old Jaffrey Pyncheon
Old Jaffrey Pyncheon is the uncle of Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, Clifford, and Hepzibah. Like Colonel Pyncheon, old Jaffrey Pyncheon dies of apoplexy. His affliction is triggered when he finds the younger Jaffrey rifling through his personal papers. The younger Jaffrey Pyncheon inherits the elder's wealth. Old Jaffrey Pyncheon believed that "Matthew Maule, the wizard, had been wronged out of his homestead, if not out of his life," and intended "to make restitution to Maule's posterity" before his death, but was unable to do so.
Phoebe is a Pyncheon relation from the country. She comes to visit Hepzibah after her (Phoebe's) mother remarries. She falls in love with Holgrave, cares for Clifford when he cannot bear to look at his sister, and much to the neighborhood's delight, works in Hepzibah's cent-shop. Whereas Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon (the younger) can be seen to represent all that is evil, Phoebe represents all that is good. The narrator describes her as "very pretty; as graceful as a bird, and graceful much in the same way; as pleasant, about the house, as a gleam of sunshine." In sum, she is the epitome of "feminine grace." The narrator stresses Phoebe's good nature and ability to transform the places and people she encounters by her sweet disposition and charming voice. Like the sunshine, she has a refreshing influence on all of the characters, particularly Hepzibah and Clifford. When Phoebe first arrives at the House of the Seven Gables, she fixes up her living quarters. The narrator notes that it had now "been purified of all former evil and sorrow by her sweet breath and happy thoughts." Such is her effect throughout the narrative. For all of her beauty, Phoebe is not an intellectual and is naöive about the evil's of human nature; however, she becomes wiser as the novel progresses.
Uncle Venner is one of the oldest habitants of Pyncheon Street who befriends Hepzibah, Clifford, and Phoebe. He is one of Hepzibah's first customers. Clifford finds his company agreeable as well, and he joins the two along with Phoebe and Holgrave for picnics. The narrator says that he "was commonly regarded as rather deficient, than otherwise, in his wits," but that there was "something like poetry in him." In sum, Uncle Venner is described as "a miscellaneous old gentleman, partly himself, but, in good measure, somebody else; patched together, too, of different epochs; an epitome of times and fashions." In the end, Uncle Venner joins Clifford, Hepzibah, Phoebe, and Holgrave in their move to the judge's country estate.
This section contains 2,330 words
(approx. 6 pages at 400 words per page)