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The House of the Seven Gables | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How do Hepzibah Pyncheon's concerns about Phoebe Pyncheon reflect Hepzibah's class consciousness in Chapter 5 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Hepzibah Pyncheon asks Uncle Venner if he has ever seen a Pyncheon like Phoebe and whom she might take after. While Uncle Venner praises Phoebe greatly, he says she is unique to the Pyncheon line. Besides wondering how she fits in the family, Hepzibah wishes Phoebe were a lady but claims, "That's impossible! Phoebe is no Pyncheon. She takes everything from her mother!" Here, Hepzibah shows the class consciousness that colors her self-perception as well as her estimation of others. Hepzibah thinks of the Pyncheon family as aristocrats and clings to the idea that she is a refined lady, perched above the rest of society. However, Hepzibah quickly sees the goodness in Phoebe. To make Phoebe more of a Pyncheon and, by extension, a lady, Hepzibah led "Phoebe from room to room of the house ... recounting the traditions." But because Hepzibah is at heart a kind and generous person, her class consciousness sits mainly on the surface, and deeper and nobler impulses eventually rule her actions and interactions.

What role does bird imagery play in Chapter 6 of The House of the Seven Gables?

The Pyncheons are a proud family who has fallen on hard times. The family's chickens, who were once "pure specimens ... and were said, while in their prime, to have attained almost the size of turkeys" are now barely larger than pigeons. They have "a queer, rusty, withered aspect ... and a sleepy and melancholy tone." Their decline is due to "too strict a watchfulness" to keep their bloodline pure, and they "had existed too long in their distinct variety." In other words, like the Pyncheons the chickens have fallen far from their aristocratic beginnings and seem destined to die out. Phoebe Pyncheon tends to the chickens and helps bring them back to health. Phoebe is no dying chicken; she shares her name with a songbird. Phoebe observes birds flying above the garden, at a remove from the atmosphere of doom and decay that has affected the chickens. She, with her youth and purity and optimism, is one of those birds.

Why does Nathaniel Hawthorne give Holgrave the job of a daguerreotypist in The House of the Seven Gables?

A daguerreotype is an old type of photograph, so a daguerreotypist is, in essence, a photographer. A photograph captures a moment. Holgrave says of a daguerreotype that "it actually brings out the secret character with a truth that no painter would ever venture upon, even could he detect it." Holgrave is a seeker of truth and understanding. He lives in the House of the Seven Gables to better understand it, even though he hates it. While Chapter 1 notes that the current generation of the Maule family had forgotten about its ancestor's role, Holgrave is very much aware of it. He has a written a story about the Maule–Pyncheon feud and is striving to better understand the current Pyncheon generation. Though he does not dominate the narrative as much as Hepzibah Pyncheon or Phoebe Pyncheon, Holgrave shares key characteristics with the narrator, one being his desire to offer a portrait of the Pyncheon family and its legacy, making his career symbolically perfect for him. Also, the daguerreotype is a new type of technology. Holgrave is someone who looks to the future and does not want to be tied to the past. He wants to be part of a future that he sees as full of potential.

Why is Clifford Pyncheon's first appearance in Chapter 7 of The House of the Seven Gables so shocking?

Hepzibah Pyncheon feels great love for her brother, Clifford Pyncheon. She looks at his picture and sighs. She shows the picture to Phoebe Pyncheon and looks at it before she first opens the shop. It is as if she is apologizing to or asking for permission of Clifford to open the shop. Hepzibah calls Clifford the true master of the house and mentions how handsome he is. When Clifford first appears in the book, the reader has been led to believe he will be a towering and impressive person. Instead, Clifford is frail, can only make it to the table with Hepzibah's help, babbles on, and is only half-coherent. In this case, an image, in the form of an old picture of Clifford, bears little resemblance to present-day reality. This contrasts with the old portrait of Colonel Pyncheon hanging in the House of the Seven Gables, which bears a shocking resemblance to the present-day Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon.

Why is Clifford Pyncheon's reaction to Colonel Pyncheon's portrait in Chapter 7 of The House of the Seven Gables so surprising?

On his first morning back in the House of the Seven Gables, Clifford Pyncheon is not lucid. At times, he does not seem to recognize Hepzibah Pyncheon. It is not clear whether he knows where he is. Therefore, it is particularly startling when Clifford suddenly emerges from this fog and reacts with violent emotion when he sees the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon. Upon noticing the portrait, Clifford cries out to Hepzibah, "Why do you keep that odious picture on the wall?" He insists she take it down. When Hepzibah says she cannot, he says it must be covered, and "I cannot bear it! It must not stare me in the face!" He then asks why should they live in the house. Despite his incoherence, Clifford maintains a sharp anger about the family legacy and what it means to them. He wants to escape the negativity. Colonel Pyncheon's portrait seems to radiate negativity; it has an almost supernatural grip on the house and its inhabitants and represents everything Clifford wants to flee from.

Why does Phoebe Pyncheon pull back from Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon in Chapter 7 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Upon first meeting each other neither Phoebe Pyncheon nor Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon knows who the other is. When the judge realizes Phoebe is his cousin, he introduces himself. Afterward, he leans in to kiss her with "praiseworthy purpose." Just as he is about to do so, Phoebe pulls back, and Judge Pyncheon's body is "bent over the counter and his lips protrud[ing] ... into the rather absurd predicament of kissing the empty air." The narrator hints at a reason for Phoebe's recoil: the judge's action "became quite too intense, when this dark, full-fed physiognomy (so roughly bearded, too, that no razor could ever make it smooth) sought to bring itself into actual contact with the object of its regards." The reader may also intuit that Phoebe senses something "off" about the judge, despite his seemingly friendly manner.

What does Hepzibah Pyncheon's selfless behavior toward Clifford Pyncheon say about her in The House of the Seven Gables?

Hepzibah Pyncheon loves Clifford. During the first morning after he arrives at the House of the Seven Gables, Clifford Pyncheon thinks Hepzibah is angry with him. In response, she says, "There is nothing but love, here, Clifford ... nothing but love! You are at home!" Because she feels such love for her brother, she is willing to do anything for him. She has been waiting for him to return from jail and is anxious to do anything she can to make him happy. But Hepzibah's efforts go unappreciated. Clifford cannot stand listening to her read to him. Hepzibah recognizes this and asks Phoebe Pyncheon to read to Clifford, instead. Clifford enjoys having Phoebe read to him. The reader may think Hepzibah would be angry or hurt over this turn of events. However, she is simply happy Clifford is happy. Her selflessness makes her a pitiable and admirable character.

How does Clifford Pyncheon's nature as a Sybarite affect his care upon returning home in The House of the Seven Gables?

Clifford Pyncheon is called a Sybarite, a lover of all good and beautiful things. This trait manifests itself in his disinterest or even disgust with Hepzibah Pyncheon. She tries very hard to make things nice for Clifford and to show him affection, but he does not appreciate it. He cannot see past her scowl and the croak in her voice. He rejects Hepzibah in favor of Phoebe Pyncheon who is full of youth and beauty. This is done unceremoniously, as if Clifford has no control over this choice. Yet his rejection of Hepzibah is petty and insensitive. His love of the beautiful that has been denied to him all those years in prison continues to rule him and leads to his unkind treatment of his sister.

Why does Clifford Pyncheon free the hens in Chapter 10, and how does this act foreshadow the conclusion of The House of the Seven Gables?

Phoebe Pyncheon and Clifford Pyncheon spend time in the garden behind the House of the Seven Gables. Clifford enjoys the vegetation—particularly the flowers and the hummingbirds. The hens are caged, but Clifford wanted them to be freed, and "as it troubled him to see them in confinement, they had been set at liberty." Clifford has recently been released from prison after a 30-year sentence for a crime he did not commit. This experience allows him to empathize with the hens' confinement. The once-proud hens' fall from grace represents the Pyncheons. The freeing of the hens foreshadows the freeing of the Pyncheons from Maule's curse and from the House of the Seven Gables. Clifford will be part of the escape.

What does the hens' attraction to Matthew Maule's well represent in Chapter 10 of The House of the Seven Gables?

The hens have been freed upon Clifford Pyncheon's instructions. With their newfound freedom, the hens are able to roam. The place they choose to go is Matthew Maule's well, even though it "was haunted by a kind of snail ... and [had] ... brackish water." The well had a smell that was "nauseous to the rest of the world, [but] was so greatly esteemed by these fowls." There is no reason for the hens to be drawn to the well. If they were like Clifford, they would gravitate to the beautiful things upon receiving their freedom. Yet they deliberately choose to go to the well. The hens symbolize the Pyncheons, and the well symbolizes the Maules. This attraction and bringing together of the hens and the well foreshadows the relationship between Phoebe Pyncheon and Holgrave, who turns out to be related to the Maules.

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