The House of the Seven Gables | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Chapter 21 of The House of the Seven Gables, what is the significance of Holgrave's revelation that he is a Maule?

With Holgrave's announcement that he is a Maule, his marriage to Phoebe Pyncheon becomes more than a unification of two people. It ties the two families together and, therefore, signifies the end of the hatred between them and the end of Matthew Maule's curse. It is somewhat similar to the union of Romeo and Juliet, except in this case, the lovers do not die. Holgrave's ideas about being free of the past is also more understandable with the revelation he is a Maule. Like the Pyncheons, he feels a tie to the past that he would rather be free of. The curse was a burden upon the Maules as well as the Pyncheons. It also explains why he knew so much about both families.

How is Phoebe Pyncheon similar to, and different from, other Pyncheon women, and why is she essential to ending the family feud in The House of the Seven Gables?

While Uncle Venner claims Phoebe Pyncheon does not take after any past Pyncheons, she exhibits similar traits to Alice Pyncheon and Hepzibah Pyncheon. Like Alice Pyncheon, Phoebe is hypnotized by a Maule. Both women are attractive and gentle. Hepzibah, like Phoebe, has a good heart and is a caretaker: both take care of the house, the shop, and Clifford Pyncheon, and Phoebe nurtures growth in the garden as well as in the hearts of those she encounters. Unlike Alice, Phoebe is appreciated by everyone. Unlike Hepzibah, Phoebe's goodness is not hidden behind a scowl. Phoebe's personality brings together the best of both of these women. However, what truly makes Phoebe stand out is her humility. She knows who she is and who she is not, and is aware of her strengths and weaknesses. People are drawn to her beauty and her humility. Among such people is Holgrave, who has seen haughty Pyncheons take advantage of his family. Phoebe's humility ultimately ends the feud.

How does the lack of internal conflict harm the Pyncheon men in The House of the Seven Gables?

Colonel Pyncheon, Gervayse Pyncheon, and Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon possess the worst characteristics of the Pyncheons. While each of the men has found success and achieved admirable goals, each has done so in a questionable manner. Colonel Pyncheon and Judge Pyncheon, in particular, refuse to investigate their own wrongdoings. As the narrator notes, "Men of strong minds ... are very capable of falling into mistakes of this kind." Later in the paragraph it states, "Beneath the show of a marble palace ... he may say his prayers, without remembering it,—is this man's miserable soul!" When people refuse to examine their own actions, they can easily convince themselves everything they do is right and good. They may also put on "the show of a marble palace," engaging in acts of superficial "goodness" to impress others, as Judge Pyncheon makes a point of doing. In the meantime, such people are controlled by negative forces—in the Pyncheons' case, greed—which push them to act in nefarious ways.

Based on his treatment of Phoebe Pyncheon and Hepzibah Pyncheon, what kind of person is Clifford Pyncheon in The House of the Seven Gables?

The narrator says it is Clifford Pyncheon's nature to be a Sybarite, a lover of beautiful things. Hepzibah Pyncheon is willing to do anything for Clifford and clearly adores him. However, initially Clifford does not want to be around Hepzibah. He wants Phoebe Pyncheon to be his attendant because he is attracted to her youth and beauty. As Clifford emerges from his stupor, he engages with Hepzibah more. Yet he still shows her little respect. He insists she follow him out of the house after Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon dies. He leads her on a mad journey. When he tires of the journey, he simply tells her, "You must take the lead now ... Do with me as you will!" Clifford shows no appreciation for his sister. It is as if she is one of the old houses he wants torn down. Clifford's need for the beautiful doubles for his aristocratic ways. While he espouses democratic ways on the train, he is an aristocrat at heart. Later in the book after the judge no longer has a hold on him, Clifford appears to appreciate Hepzibah more.

How does Uncle Venner change throughout The House of the Seven Gables?

When first introduced, it is noted that Uncle Venner is so old, people do not remember when he was young. However, there is a tradition that when he was younger, he "was commonly regarded as rather deficient, than otherwise, in his wits." One reason people did not respect him is that he did not strive for "such success as other men seek." People looked down on him because he was exceedingly humble. In the story, Uncle Venner provides friendship to Hepzibah Pyncheon and Clifford Pyncheon. He encourages Hepzibah when she opens her shop. He calls Phoebe Pyncheon an angel and rightly sees how much she means to Hepzibah and Clifford. His kindness and wisdom are appreciated by the others, as he is a fixture at the Sunday luncheons, and Phoebe insists he join them in their new home. Clifford says Uncle Venner has escaped bitterness, and in the final paragraph of the novel he is described as "wise Uncle Venner."

Who—or what—is the primary antagonist in The House of the Seven Gables?

There are a couple of characters who could be called the primary antagonist in the novel. Colonel Pyncheon's actions lead to him and his family being cursed. His picture hangs in the House of the Seven Gables and looms over it like an evil shadow. Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon frames Clifford Pyncheon and lets him go to jail for 30 years, knowing full well he is innocent. The judge has not changed in 30 years, as he is ready to see Clifford go back to jail if Clifford does not divulge where the deed to the property is. However, neither is the primary antagonist. The primary antagonist in the book is greed and man's drive for power. These traits push men to commit disastrous and harmful actions and forget about who may be harmed. When a person's sole focus is power and greed, he is doomed, as are those around him.

How are Nathaniel Hawthorne's anti-Puritan views revealed in The House of the Seven Gables?

Nathaniel Hawthorne was ashamed of his relative who participated as a judge in the Salem Witch Trials. He was also uninterested in the Puritan ways and looked down on them. Colonel Pyncheon, a man with few positive traits, is described as a Puritan throughout the book. Just as his behaviors are on trial, so is Puritanism. The town's residents consider Colonel Pyncheon a "stalwart Puritan." His association with the religion solidifies his role as someone to be looked up to and admired. When he claimed Matthew Maule was a wizard, his standing in the Puritan community ensured people would believe him. Only after Matthew Maule's death do people consider Colonel Pyncheon's reasons for questioning Matthew Maule. Because of the Puritan way, a man has been killed.

How does Hepzibah Pyncheon contribute to her own entrapment in The House of the Seven Gables?

When Hepzibah Pyncheon is first introduced in the story, she is described as an "Old Maid." She is alone in the house, and sighs deeply upon awakening. Everything about her life and existence is inaudible, including her "gusty sighs [and the] creaking joints of her stiffened knees." Hepzibah allows herself to become attached to the House of the Seven Gables. She wanders around the house, as it is the only place she has ever known. While she knows it is dreary, she does nothing to try to escape it. She accepts the family's aristocratic ways and buys into the family legends. She is more than the family historian. Hepzibah is the embodiment of haughtiness gone awry.

How does class play a role in the feud between the Pyncheons and Maules in The House of the Seven Gables?

Colonel Pyncheon, a wealthy aristocratic landowner, has power and social status in his favor; Matthew Maule, the man Pyncheon wants hanged for witchcraft, is a poor farmer with no power or status whatsoever. Unsurprisingly, Colonel Pyncheon gets his wish, and Maule loses his life. Two generations later, Colonel Pyncheon's grandson, the privileged Gervayse Pyncheon, faces the wrath of Matthew Maule's grandson, also named Matthew, a lowly but strong-willed carpenter. Although Matthew first shows his class consciousness by entering the House of the Seven Gables through the back door—like a servant—rather than through the front—like an equal—he soon asserts his power without benefit of class advantages, tricking Gervayse and mentally overpowering Alice Pyncheon. Thus does the privilege of aristocracy begin to crumble.

What final point is made by Hepzibah Pyncheon's actions and the passing men's comments in Chapter 21 of The House of the Seven Gables?

Hepzibah Pyncheon never wanted to open the shop. She felt it was beneath her, as it was not appropriate for a lady. With the family's rediscovered wealth, the shop will not be reopened. Hepzibah and the others have become extremely wealthy. Hepzibah's final action is to give Ned Higgins "silver enough" to buy as many candies as he wants. This action, while generous, is also demeaning. She is the aristocrat helping the less fortunate get sweets. One of the men passing by notes to the other that his wife's shop lost $5 over the course of three months. On the contrary, Hepzibah ends up "ride[ing] off in her carriage with a couple of hundred thousand." The men see it as luck. The novel espouses democratic and middle-class beliefs, and the power of the individual to set his own course and live by his own merits. However, Hepzibah and the other main characters end up wealthy through inheritance. The rich remain wealthy through no effort of their own.

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