The House of the Seven Gables | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables | Chapter 18 : Governor Pyncheon | Summary



Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon remains in the chair where Clifford and Hepzibah Pyncheon left him. His eyes are open, and he is holding his ticking watch. It was to be a busy day with many engagements (including a visit to the doctor) for the judge. The day was to end with a fancy dinner party of fine food and wine for the judge's political friends. At the party, Judge Pyncheon was going to be selected to be the party's nominee for governor. The narrator states as if talking to Judge Pyncheon, "It has been the grand purpose of half your lifetime to obtain it." He misses the dinner, however, and someone else will be chosen instead.

The next day comes, and Judge Pyncheon is still seated. Because he has not wound his watch, Judge Pyncheon's clock has stopped ticking. Finally, a fly buzzes, but the judge does not stir.


This chapter should stand out to the reader for the narrator's sardonic tone and morbid humor, particularly with respect to the poetic justice of Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's untimely death. Though to be accurate, it is timely for his cousins, Clifford and Hepzibah Pyncheon, who need not fear his wrath any longer, but untimely for the judge, who had many plans unfulfilled. It's clear the judge is dead, and yet the narrator still refuses to pronounce him dead, deciding instead to play out a drama of what might have been. This narrative technique is rife with irony. Readers know Judge Pyncheon is dead, and it is as though the judge is reanimated by the narrator who pretends to be speaking with him; the narrative spins out hypothetical meetings and dinners involving a character who is dead but is still discussed as though living. The sarcasm is evident in many instances: "Still lingering in the old chair!" the narrator exclaims at point; in reference to his doctor's appointment, the narrator says, "But a fig for medical advice. The judge will never need it"; and ironically, in reference to his taste for fine vintages, remarks, "It would all but revive a dead man! Would you like to sip it [a glass of wine] now, Judge Pyncheon?"

Here, the narrator is as giddy over the villain's death as Clifford Pyncheon, but the dramatic irony (which is when what happens is contrary to what is expected) indicates at least one of Nathaniel Hawthorne's morals, though he's been careful not to "impale" his story with it: despite best-laid plans, worldly possessions do not pass into the realm of death. The clock continues to tick and life goes on—without the judge as an active participant. He had grand aspirations—to become governor of Massachusetts—and craves success, prosperity, and adulation. (More irony drips from the chapter title itself: "Governor Pyncheon"; the man will no longer have the chance to accomplish this.) While the judge had previously imagined himself to be essential in his society, and had "fifteen years or twenty—yes, or perhaps five-and-twenty!" left to enjoy life, things can end in an instant.

With the final farewell to the judge ("Nay, then, we give thee up!"), Hawthorne's conclusion—and just maybe a happy ending—seems at hand. The narrator hints at such a denouement when he says, "We breathe more freely, emerging from Judge Pyncheon's presence." The Gothic ghosts finally seem to have been laid to rest.

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