The House of the Seven Gables | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables | Chapter 19 : Alice's Posies | Summary

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Summary

Uncle Venner is the first person to stir on Pyncheon Street the morning after the storm. It is the morning of a beautiful day made more so by Alice's Posies (as people had named them), which "were flaunting in rich beauty and full bloom." Uncle Venner goes to the House of Seven Gables as he collects food scraps from all of his neighbors to feed his pig. When he finds nothing there, he is very surprised. A number of people come by the house, including patrons for the shop and delivery people. No one can gain access, and some are surprised and even angered by the inaccessibility. The rumor is Hepzibah and Clifford Pyncheon went to Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's country estate.

After Judge Pyncheon fails to show up at the political dinner and leaves his horse tied up, a rumor spreads: the judge has been murdered. Suspicion falls upon Hepzibah and Clifford due to their adversarial relationship and Clifford's past.

Phoebe Pyncheon returns and also tries to enter the House of the Seven Gables. When she has no luck, she goes to the garden. Phoebe is disturbed, though not surprised, by the poor condition of the garden. Just as she begins to have "indistinct misgivings of something amiss, and apprehensions to which she could not give shape," the door to the house is opened. She enters, and immediately the door closes behind her.

Analysis

The opening description of this chapter carries on the optimism of the previous chapter's conclusion:

Every object was agreeable, whether to be gazed at in the breadth, or examined more minutely. ... [T]he well-washed pebbles and gravel of the sidewalk ... the sky-reflecting pools in the centre of the street; and the grass, now freshly verdant, that crept along the base of the fences, on the other side of which, if one peeped over, was seen the multifarious growth of gardens ... The Pyncheon Elm, throughout its great circumference, was all alive, and full of the morning sun and a sweet-tempered little breeze, which lingered within this verdant sphere ....

Here are renewal, growth, and unity—stark contrasts to the decadence, death, and disunity in the Pyncheon household of previous generations. The death of the judge has perhaps signaled such a change, but other characters have played their part in nurturing these "gardens" over a longer period of time. True to his transcendentalist theme, Nathaniel Hawthorne demonstrates the transformative power of nature and those who are open to its "sweet-tempered" influence. Maybe Phoebe Pyncheon is alluded to here; before leaving the House of the Seven Gables she has certainly helped to maintain the "multifarious growth" outside the home, and made a valiant effort to effect a change in the inhabitants inside. But the Pyncheon Elm predates Phoebe, and as far back as Chapter 1 readers know that it has existed before the Pyncheon home itself, giving "beauty to the old edifice" and flourishing for many generations, however poisonous the behavior of the mansion's residents.

Later in the chapter, the narrator draws attention to another influence: Alice's Posies. On this day, they "were flaunting in rich beauty and full bloom ... and seemed, as it were, a mystic expression that something within the house was consummated." With the exception of Phoebe, Alice Pyncheon stands as the rare positive Pyncheon strain, which has, according to the narrator, lasted to the present day; her posies, which have not only thrived but seem to have grown stronger, imply how beauty and love can withstand the passage of time and the grasp of greedy hands.

But the arrival of Phoebe leads the narrator to surmise if "her healthful presence [is] potent enough to chase away the crowd of pale, hideous, and sinful phantoms, that have gained admittance there since her departure." As with the other townspeople who go about their business, knowing nothing of the judge's death, Phoebe is oblivious to the potential horror that awaits her—creating once again suspense and dramatic irony (which is when what happens is contrary to what is expected) seen in the previous chapters. Yet while Phoebe is part of the family, she shows no repercussions from its past. Phoebe is essentially an outsider, which maybe explains her apparent immunity to the home's poisonous effects. She is similar to those noted above in wanting to enter the house, but her purpose is one of care and concern. Phoebe does not want anything from the inhabitants—she simply wants to give. Throughout the book, Phoebe has been a symbol of hope, youth, and goodness. Despite the tension of the final lines of the chapter, her reemergence in the story foreshadows something positive on the horizon.

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