The House of the Seven Gables | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables | Chapter 10 : The Pyncheon Garden | Summary

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Summary

Phoebe and Clifford Pyncheon spend afternoons in the garden. Holgrave and Uncle Venner repair the roof of the summer house, and Phoebe and Clifford spend time reading there. Holgrave gives Phoebe some reading material, including fiction and poetry. Clifford does not care for fiction, which includes "pictures of life, scenes of passion or sentiment." Either because of his lack of experience or the grief in his own life, Clifford does not appreciate fiction books. His emotional reactions are excessive. Clifford prefers poetry, as he enjoys its rhythm and rhyme.

Clifford is very interested and finds great joy in the flowers. He looks at the bees "with a joyful sense of warmth." The garden also includes bean vines Holgrave planted after he found the seeds hidden away in the house. Hummingbirds were attracted to the bean vines, and they draw Clifford's attention. Hepzibah Pyncheon sees Clifford watching the hummingbirds and says he has loved them since childhood, and it has "been one of the earliest tokens by which he showed his love for beautiful things." Clifford insists the animals be free to roam, and they are usually found around Maule's well.

With Hepzibah acting as the organizer, the Pyncheon cousins along with Holgrave and Uncle Venner gather together in the garden on Sundays after Phoebe returns from church. Clifford is more talkative at these gatherings, as he engages in conversation (mostly with Uncle Venner) and can become happy and animated. However, as it grows dark, Clifford laments the years he has waited for happiness. The narrator says of Clifford, "fate has no happiness in store for you" other than what he currently enjoys, so he should appreciate it. While looking into Maule's well, Clifford often sees faces looking up at him. Some of those faces are beautiful with sunny smiles. However, there are also faces that cause him to cry out, "the dark face gazes at me!" and for the rest of the day, Clifford remains in a state of gloom and misery.

Analysis

Like the garden with its thriving bean vines, Clifford Pyncheon is reawakening. He is growing more conversant and emotional, implying that his earlier negative reaction to the colonel's portrait is a sign he wants to move on or forward. At the same time, Clifford's reawakening has some negative consequences, as he laments his lost time and opportunities. He has had little experience with life, as evidenced by his inability to appreciate or relate to the fiction Phoebe Pyncheon reads. While in the midst of enjoying a pleasant afternoon with family and friends, Clifford becomes emotional. He is not content with what he has. Reflecting his lingering classism, he enjoys speaking with Uncle Venner because he is "at the very lowest point of the social scale" and "was fond of feeling himself comparatively youthful."

While Clifford shows great sensitivity to nature and appreciates the gatherings, there is a hardness or darkness to him as well. His mysterious words to Uncle Venner, "but I have a better scheme for him, by and by," seem out of place. When Clifford sees evil faces in the well, the narrator notes they are merely "the shadow thrown from a branch ... breaking the inner light of Maule's well." Clifford has some inner demons that come out periodically‚ÄĒevidence that he possesses some of the negative Pyncheon traits. The man who loves everything beautiful struggles to accept his life as it is; while he detests the colonel and is frightened by the "dark face" of his aristocratic past, he cannot entirely let it go. Also, Clifford's reawakening has brought him sadness and a realization of what he has lost.

The chickens, as previously noted, symbolize the Pyncheon family. Clifford takes pity on the animals and insists they be free to roam. Here is another sign that the aristocrat desires some change in the state of things. As someone who spent many years in prison, Clifford can appreciate the great luxury that comes with movement. Hepzibah Pyncheon spent many years shuttered off by herself in the House of the Seven Gables and thus turning it into a prison. Clifford, however, has a certain sensitivity to nature (hummingbirds were the first indicator of his love for beautiful things, and "his feeling for flowers was very exquisite"). Ironically, the chickens are drawn to Maule's well. The Maule and Pyncheon families are tied together and brought evil upon each other, but the chickens' time at the well seems to foreshadow a truce between the two families.

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