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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 21 - 30


How does Clifford Pyncheon reveal his negative Pyncheon-like traits during the Sunday afternoon luncheons in Chapter 10 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Since Clifford Pyncheon's return to the House of the Seven Gables and Phoebe Pyncheon's arrival, Hepzibah Pyncheon has arranged a Sunday afternoon luncheon with the three of them as well as Holgrave and Uncle Venner. These luncheons seem to be the highlight of the week (for Clifford, in particular; he talks more at these gatherings than on other occasions). Clifford is especially comfortable talking to Uncle Venner because the latter is "at the very lowest point of the social scale" and, thus, unintimidating. In addition, because Uncle Venner is very old, he makes Clifford feel "comparatively youthful," which Clifford very much enjoys. As Clifford gains confidence during these gatherings, he begins to show some unappealing traits. For example, when Uncle Venner talks about retiring to a farm, Clifford responds, surprisingly, "but I have a better scheme for him, by and by. We shall see!" Suddenly Clifford sounds quite power hungry and manipulative, reflecting his Pyncheon heritage. Clifford views the old man as beneath him and as someone who can be controlled. These same traits are visible in Pyncheons of the past. When Clifford mutters, "I want my happiness! ... Many, many years have I waited for it! It is late!" at the end of an afternoon in the garden, his greedy attitude echoes that of Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon.

What comments about society does the narrator make via the organ-grinder in Chapter 11 of The House of the Seven Gables?

The organ-grinder is a street performer, and Clifford and Phoebe Pyncheon see him from the front window of the House of the Seven Gables. He has a cast of characters that includes a monkey dressed in Highland plaid. The monkey goes up to people "holding out his small black palm," indicating "his excessive desire for whatever filthy lucre might happen to be in anybody's pocket." With its "love of money," the animal symbolizes man's greed. A passerby drops money in "without imagining how nearly his own moral condition was here exemplified." People don't recognize they are like the monkey and full of greed. The narrator looks down on this behavior.

What is unusual about Holgrave's desire to be free of the past in Chapter 12 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Holgrave and Phoebe Pyncheon engage in conversation while alone together in the garden. Holgrave expresses his philosophy, asking, "Shall we never, never get rid of this Past?" He goes on to express his frustration with all things old and his desire to be free of the influence of dead men. Holgrave longs for a time "when no man shall build his house for posterity." It is odd Holgrave says this, as he has chosen to reside in the House of the Seven Gables. While he claims to be there because he is studying the effects of the old house and how better to hate it, he is clearly drawn to the house because of his family's former claim to it. He is deeply interested in the past and has written a story about the Pyncheon–Maule feud. Rather than being free of the past, he is dwelling in it.

How is Gervayse Pyncheon representative of the negative traits of the Pyncheon family in Chapter 13 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Gervayse Pyncheon is a proud and wealthy man who is not satisfied with his current state. Similar to his grandfather, Colonel Pyncheon, and his descendant Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, his greed leads him to actions harmful to others. He unceremoniously summons Matthew Maule (the younger) and gives short shift to his complaints and frustrations regarding his family's treatment over the land upon which the House of the Seven Gables sits. His insensitivity angers Matthew Maule (the younger), and it leads him to negatively judge Alice Pyncheon. Gervayse Pyncheon is blinded by his greed and lust for power. Matthew Maule (the younger) says he will need Gervayse Pyncheon's daughter, Alice Pyncheon, in order to find the deed. Gervayse turns his daughter over to him as part of his pursuit for money. When he clearly sees she is in danger, Gervayse lets his daughter talk him out of stopping Matthew Maule's antics.

How does Nathaniel Hawthorne demonstrate the negative consequences of the powers of Matthew Maule (the younger) in Chapter 13 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Matthew Maule (the younger) is bitter about how his family was treated by Colonel Pyncheon. His anger and vengeful spirit, passed down from his grandfather, make him more similar to the hated Pyncheons than he realizes. While at the House of the Seven Gables, he asks to see Alice Pyncheon, whom he describes as fair and whom he seems to have some interest in. When she appears in the room, he feels she looks at him as if he is a "brute beast," and declares, "she shall know whether I have a human spirit; and the worse for her." To humble Alice, Maule hypnotizes her and forces her to do his bidding. When Alice eventually dies as a consequence of being hypnotized, Maule feels guilt, but obviously, that comes too late. He is part of her funeral procession, "gnashing his teeth, as if he would have bitten his own heart." His goal was not to kill Alice but simply to humble her. With this action, he has gone too far with his powers and sunk to the level of the man he hates, Colonel Pyncheon.

How does Holgrave's emotional growth help end the feud between the Pyncheons and the Maules in Chapter 14 of The House of the Seven Gables?

After hearing the story of Alice Pyncheon and Matthew Maule (the younger), Phoebe Pyncheon is nearly hypnotized herself. If Holgrave wanted to hypnotize her, he could have done so easily, and "he could complete his mastery over Phoebe's yet free and virgin spirit." Holgrave's refusal to do so is admirable, especially because he has a romantic interest in Phoebe that she does not seem to reciprocate. It indicates that he has attained a maturity and nobility that differentiate him from the more aggressive Matthew Maule (the younger) and certainly from the odious Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon. Holgrave's refusal to take advantage of Phoebe is a clear indication he has grown past the Maules' long-lived hatred for the Pyncheons. His attitude and behavior allow for the ultimate reconciliation between the families and for a genuine relationship to develop between himself and Phoebe.

Why is Phoebe Pyncheon's growth in Chapter 14 of The House of the Seven Gables atypical of the setting?

When Phoebe Pyncheon arrived at the House of the Seven Gables, she was described as a child. As she is readying to leave the house, she has grown. Phoebe herself recognizes the growth, and claims, "I have grown ... and, I hope, wiser ... with not half so much lightness in my spirits!" Holgrave and Clifford Pyncheon also recognize the growth in Phoebe and view it as positive. This is atypical because it has occurred while in the House of the Seven Gables. The house has, to date, stripped people of their vitality and caused them to stagnate. Again, Phoebe is a different kind of Pyncheon, and she is able to defy the house, and even grow.

How does Nathaniel Hawthorne use the weather to foreshadow problems in Chapter 15 of The House of the Seven Gables?

There are multiple times in the text where Phoebe Pyncheon is described as being angelic and a ray of light. When she leaves the House of the Seven Gables, she takes the light with her, and the place becomes gloomy again. Clifford Pyncheon has a setback and spends most of his time in his room, and customers stop coming to the store. The dreary weather outside made "the black roof and walls of the old house look more cheerless than ever before." The gloom both inside and outside the house is bound to impact the characters directly, and does so with the arrival of Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon and his demands to be allowed into the house to see Clifford.

How does Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's conscience, or lack of conscience, affect him in Chapter 15 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon is described as a man of "eminent respectability," as seen by the church and the state. Everyone considers him an honorable man. In addition, it is noted that Judge Pyncheon is recognized for the "purity of his judicial character ... [and] his devotedness to his party." He was a principled man who was "president of a Bible society" and served "as treasurer of a widow's and orphan's fund." These praiseworthy deeds and visions of Judge Pyncheon are merely "splendid rubbish" that serve to "cover up and paralyze a more active and subtle conscience than the Judge was ever troubled with." The motives for his good deeds are vanity and ambition, not kindness or self-sacrifice. The judge has committed other deeds that are hardly worthy of praise, including a "half-forgotten" act he clearly wants to forget entirely. If Judge Pyncheon feels any trace of internal conflict or guilt, he strives mightily to ignore it.

How does the reader's perception of Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon change with his demands and threats regarding Clifford Pyncheon in Chapter 15 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon frequently smiles. He offers his assistance to Hepzibah Pyncheon multiple times, and regularly inquires about Clifford Pyncheon. While Hepzibah is angry at Judge Pyncheon and speaks poorly about him, it is not clear what he has done to deserve such wrath. Even Phoebe Pyncheon is uncertain if he is as bad as Hepzibah claims. The scowl of Judge Pyncheon, which has been noted numerous times, is truly covering something up. When he threatens to have Clifford locked up if Hepzibah does not allow the two to meet, Judge Pyncheon reveals himself to be cruel. Greed is added to his list of faults when he explains why he insists on seeing Clifford. His patience and offers of assistance come at a price. Judge Pyncheon exhibits the negative qualities of his ancestors, particularly Colonel Pyncheon.

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