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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 31 - 40


How does Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's death affect Clifford Pyncheon between Chapters 11 and 16 in The House of the Seven Gables?

When Clifford Pyncheon returns home from prison, he is in a zombie-like state. As time passes, he slowly comes out of his doldrums. However, Clifford is nothing like the man he once was. In Chapter 11, Clifford is ready to jump out the window, but Hepzibah Pyncheon and Phoebe Pyncheon stop him. Both Clifford and the narrator imply that the leap out of the window would have been good for him. He says to Hepzibah, "Had I taken that plunge, and survived it, methinks it would have made me another man!" Clifford does indeed become another man, but it is the death of Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, and not his own, that makes this happen. He says, "We can dance ... sing, laugh, play, do what we will! The weight is gone, Hepzibah!" After Judge Pyncheon's death, Clifford begins taking care of Hepzibah rather than the other way around.

How does the train ride impact Clifford Pyncheon in Chapter 17 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Clifford Pyncheon is a bundle of energy on the train. He engages in conversation and goes on and on with his ideas about home and man. His face glows with excitement and "a youthful character shone out from within." People around Clifford notice him and recognize that when he was young he was handsome. Hepzibah Pyncheon is uncomfortable on the train and wants Clifford to stop talking, particularly when he alludes to the House of the Seven Gables. She begs him to be quiet and is convinced people will think he is mad. When Clifford is finished talking, he insists they leave the train, and he and Hepzibah end up at "a solitary way-station." Clifford turns into a deflated balloon—his energy has left him, and he insists Hepzibah lead the way. Clifford, like the train station, has been emptied. He has nothing left.

How does the ghost story in Chapter 18 act as foreshadowing in The House of the Seven Gables?

As Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's dead body lies in a chair in the House of the Seven Gables, it is as if his mind is still moving. The author tells a ghost story involving a family party of the deceased Pyncheons. From Colonel Pyncheon on down, Pyncheons of the past parade through the scene. Colonel Pyncheon looks at the picture of himself and "lifts his ineffectual hand, and tries the frame." His inability to move the frame angers him. Others come and also try the frame but are unable to move it. The Pyncheons are rendered powerless; and, as ever, the House of the Seven Gables is haunted by the ghosts of its past. In addition, the ghostly story and its fixation on the portrait and its frame foreshadow later events; frame and portrait will eventually fall to the floor, exposing the ancient deed the Pyncheons long sought. While this is going on, a figure who is clearly Thomas Maule, builder of the House of the Seven Gables, is in the corner pointing at them, "jeering, mocking, and finally bursting into obstreperous, though inaudible laughter." He may be mocking the Pyncheons, yet he, too, is trapped in the house and in the past, so he has fared no better than they.

What is the significance of Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's watch in Chapter 18 of The House of the Seven Gables?

While Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon waits for Clifford Pyncheon to come down to meet him, he is holding his watch. After he dies, Judge Pyncheon continues to hold the watch, and the ticking sound is audible in the abandoned house. It ticks on as the light in the house changes: first morning, then noon, then twilight. As the chapter comes to an end and darkness has enveloped the house, the narrator notes, "The watch has at last ceased to tick." The watch, like the light outside, symbolizes the passing of time. On this day, time runs out for Judge Pyncheon. The chapter details the various plans Judge Pyncheon had for the day. A man who always wanted to make the most of his time, the judge had a full schedule ahead, including a political dinner where he fully expected to be nominated as his party's representative for governor. He had been dreaming of this and was ready to accept the honor. His other errands included a visit to the doctor, though Judge Pyncheon was convinced he had up to 25 more years to live. He was too busy to stop living, but his time came to an end. Still, life will move on. Other watches will keep ticking. A different candidate will be selected for governor. Time waits for no one, and people move forward.

Why do Phoebe and others seem more concerned about finding Hepzibah and Clifford than about locating Judge Pyncheon in Chapters 19 and 20 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Hepzibah Pyncheon and Clifford Pyncheon are nowhere to be found. Uncle Venner leads a procession of people looking for Hepzibah. Each of these people counts on her in some way, a fact that points up the reclusive Hepzibah's modest strength and goodness. When Phoebe Pyncheon returns, she and Holgrave are concerned about Hepzibah and Clifford as well. Clifford is a half-mad ex-convict, and yet people see the good in him and care for his welfare. On the other hand, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon does not seem to be missed. The only concern people have about him is how to collect a reward if he has been killed. This important man has impacted few people in his life on a personal level. The contrast between him and Hepzibah and Clifford is dramatic.

What does Phoebe Pyncheon's reaction to Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's death say about her in Chapter 20 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Upon learning about Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's death, Phoebe Pyncheon is spooked and insists Holgrave alert the neighborhood. Holgrave disagrees with Phoebe's idea and explains why he feels this way. Phoebe does not grasp how people could react to Judge Pyncheon's death and judge Clifford Pyncheon negatively. She exclaims, "Clifford is innocent. God will make it manifest!" Phoebe's simplistic reasoning shows her genuine faith in man and God and her innocence. While she has grown and changed since she came to the House of the Seven Gables, her innocence and decency remain. Hence, Uncle Venner's description as an angel seems apt. She is not caught up in the negative history of the Pyncheon family.

In what ways are Holgrave and Phoebe Pyncheon a good or bad couple in The House of the Seven Gables?

Throughout the novel, it is made clear that Phoebe Pyncheon and Holgrave are vastly different people. She is simpler and more accepting; he is passionate and questioning of society. Phoebe asks Holgrave, "How can you love a simple girl like me?" She recognizes the differences between them. Holgrave is swept away by his feelings for her, insisting, "You are my only possibility of happiness!" The couple does indeed seem mismatched. However, Holgrave insists he will change for Phoebe. On the other hand, both Phoebe and Holgrave share a concern for Hepzibah Pyncheon and Clifford Pyncheon. Holgrave recognizes the good in Phoebe and wants to join with her. Phoebe seems to find Holgrave intriguing, even if she does not always understand or appreciate his ideas. By the novel's end, it is clear Holgrave has indeed moved toward Phoebe's way of thinking, as he expresses a newfound longing for permanence. "Why," cried Phoebe, gazing into the artist's face with infinite amazement, "how wonderfully your ideas are changed!" (Chapter 21). This makes their match all the more likely.

What role do rumors play on Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's reputation after he has died in Chapter 21 of The House of the Seven Gables?

After a couple of weeks of talk about Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's work and impact, the public focuses on one element of his life. Rumors fly, and there is "a hidden stream of private talk, such as it would have shocked all decency." The rumors are about the possibility that Judge Pyncheon played a role in Uncle Jaffrey Pyncheon's death. He, like his ancestor Colonel Pyncheon, took advantage of the death of another person to satisfy his greed and lust for power. To cover up his role, he framed his cousin Clifford Pyncheon. With Judge Pyncheon dead and unable to refute such rumors, this theory becomes accepted.

How does Holgrave change throughout The House of the Seven Gables?

In Chapter 12, Holgrave shares his philosophy with Phoebe Pyncheon. He tells her, "Shall we never, never get rid of this Past?" Holgrave goes on to wish for a day when a home is not for posterity and each generation should build their own home. His belief is that people should make their own destiny and not be tied to the past. This attitude stands in stark opposition to that of the Pyncheons, who are inextricably bound to the past. The House of the Seven Gables itself is a monument to this past; the structure is gloomy and far past its prime. In the final chapter of the book, Holgrave wishes Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's house was of stone (not wood), so the exterior would give "that impression of permanence which [he] consider[s] essential to the happiness of any one moment." Even Phoebe recognizes the difference in Holgrave, who has quickly become domesticated and has come to embrace the importance of history; though, unlike the Pyncheons, he appears unlikely to become mired in it.

How does The House of the Seven Gables espouse transcendentalist ideas?

Nathaniel Hawthorne was exposed to some of the leading transcendentalist figures of his day, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, figures who espoused idealism and optimism. Hawthorne, while of a darker outlook, recognized that he lived in a time of great change. Though The House of the Seven Gables is a Gothic Romance rather than representative of the transcendental movement, it makes many references to progress and the idea of not getting stuck in the past. Hawthorne espouses transcendentalist ideas through Holgrave and Clifford Pyncheon. These two characters go on about their philosophy regarding moving beyond the ideas of dead men and looking to the future. They both say houses are not meant to last for generations upon generations because they weigh people down and limit their expression. Houses could be replaced with the words ideas, beliefs, or traditions. Traditions can be burdensome, and people need to be free to consider new possibilities. Yet by the end of the novel, Holgrave has come to embrace tradition as well, perhaps showing Hawthorne's reluctance to entirely embrace transcendentalism's future-centric thrust.

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