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House of the Seven Gables

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The House of the Seven Gables

"[The] sympathy or magnetism among human beings is more subtle and universal

than we think; it exists, indeed, among different classes of organized life, and vibrates

from one to another" (Hawthorne 178). Loosely based on the events of Hawthorne's own

life, The House of the Seven Gables attempts to show the suffering of descendants forced

to repent for the sins of their "father", while they are unknowingly renewing the curse by

nurturing the ancestral greed that has passed through the generations (O' Connor 6) .

Thus the various themes of the novel reflect the central idea of continued sin through the

greed and guilt of a declining family.

Each generation struggles to escape the sins of the past, only to be thrust

forcefully back to face the offenses of their forefathers. The House of the Seven Gables

is a tale of loneliness and greed caused by the sin of preceding generations. The opening

of the novel is set in puritan times during the Salem witch hunts. The villainous Colonel

Pyncheon wrongly accused the innocent Matthew Maule of witchcraft so that the Maule

land would fall into the Pyncheon family's hands. Upon his death, Maule "addressed

[Colonel Pyncheon] from the scaffold, and uttered a prophecy...God will give him blood

to drink" (Hawthorne 4-5) . The physical wrongdoing of Colonel Pyncheon against

Matthew Maule was avenged at the former's death, with the curse being fulfilled.

However, the essence of the crime lived on through the generations.

By chapter two, the focus of the novel has shifted to the modern generations of

the Pyncheon family. The family has severely declined since the Colonel's time, yet the

curse of greed is as strong as ever. The remains of the family consist of a decrepit

spinster named Hepzibah, now the caretaker of the house of the seven gables; her insane

brother Clifford, who was just recently released from prison; their devilish cousin Judge

Jaffrey, a man fixated upon his own greed; and their distant cousin Phoebe, the sunny

country girl that will be their redemption. Also, the last surviving descendant of the

Maule lineage, the handsome Holgrave Maule, resides at the house.

In a compilation by F.O. Matthiessen, it is stated that the "main theme was not the

original curse on the house, but the curse that the Pyncheons have continued to bring

upon themselves". It is not Maule's death which needs avenging, but the anguish caused

by the Pyncheon family's greed. "Lust for wealth has held the Pyncheon' in its inflexible

grasp". What Hawthorne saw handed down through the generations were not material

unrealities such as gold and family position, but inescapable traits of character (145).

Even in the modern times of the novel, the family is ruled by greed and pride.

The characters are haunted by their own selfish desires; the sin of the past is reborn

through the greed of the family. Only the light-hearted "flower" Phoebe Pyncheon is

untouched by the family's inescapable destiny. And while Hepzibah and Clifford

Pyncheon suffer from illusions of grandeur, they lack the strength of will to achieve their

ultimate desires.

Hepzibah and Clifford, the "child-like" inhabitants of the house, suffer from the

"iron will" of Jaffrey's hunger for more wealth to add to his already abundant supply.

Jaffrey even subjected his own kindred to the harsh hell of prison and destitution just for

the inheritance of an elderly uncle. Even though approaching old age, Jaffrey would still

persecute his cousins for a wealth that would only pass momentarily through his hand

before his own death. He is the reincarnated villain from the past, come to continue the

curse of a bygone generation in a modern day setting. "[His] guilt is never rendered in

observable terms; at the moment of his death, he is as imposing and impenetrable as

ever" (Crews 177).

But the other characters are not without their faults, though not as tainted with

evil as Jaffrey. Hepzibah would rather think herself better than society rather than be an

actual, participating member. She let her youth and whatever beauty she had slip away in

the dark recesses of the dusty old house, all the while clinging to the notion that she was

a member of the long-dead aristocracy. She also dreamed of the vast fortune she was

bound to receive from the "Pyncheon territory", a "delusion of family importance" each

Pyncheon has clung to "from generation to generation" (Matthiessen 143). She lived in

solitude for the better part of thirty years, remaining an "old maid" who "never had a

lover". When her finances become dependent on actual labor, she felt that she had

"brought

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