The House of the Seven Gables | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The Curse

The novel opens in Massachusetts in 1692, during the time of the Salem Witch Trials. Colonel Pyncheon, a wealthy and powerful man, is determined to acquire a piece of land in Maine, but there is a catch. The land is occupied by Matthew Maule, a man who refuses to sell his land. When Matthew Maule is accused of witchcraft, Colonel Pyncheon is a leading voice of condemnation. As Matthew Maule is hanged he curses Colonel Pyncheon, saying, "God will give him blood to drink!" Colonel Pyncheon obtains the land and employs Matthew Maule's son to build the House of the Seven Gables. During a housewarming party, Colonel Pyncheon is found dead in his study, with blood on his beard.

Hepzibah Pyncheon

The novel moves ahead in time to 1850; generations of Pyncheons have come and gone. The family has suffered a number of misfortunes, with few descendants having the iron will of their founding father. The House of the Seven Gables has become old and decrepit. Its only inhabitant is Hepzibah Pyncheon, an old maid of 60 whose scowl scares people off and hides her inner decency. Having lived the life of a hermit for many years, Hepzibah decides to open a shop in the house as a way of making ends meet. She is distraught over having to do so, as she believes she is shaming the family name, but her financial straits leave her no choice. Uncle Venner, a neighbor, and Holgrave, a tenant, support and encourage this new venture.

Phoebe and Clifford

At the end of the first day of the shop's opening, Hepzibah is visited by a young cousin who lives in the country, Phoebe Pyncheon. Hepzibah does not want to have guests as she feels she is not up to it. Phoebe, however, shows herself to be capable and talented—both in helping out in the shop and at home, and Hepzibah grows to appreciate Phoebe's presence. Hepzibah pines for her brother Clifford, who is set to return after having served a 30-year prison sentence for the murder of his uncle. When Clifford comes home, he can hardly talk and behaves in a childlike manner. He is, however, drawn to Phoebe, who is attractive, kind, and decent. The three relatives form a routine with Hepzibah and Phoebe taking turns watching Clifford and the store.

Judge Pyncheon and Holgrave

Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, another cousin, is a rich and powerful man. He would like to visit Clifford, and offers to help. Hepzibah insists he stay away and tells Phoebe, "That man has been the horror of my life!" Similar to Hepzibah, Judge Pyncheon has a scowl, but he is usually smiling and hides his scowl.

Phoebe enjoys helping Hepzibah and Clifford. However, she needs time to herself, so she walks to the backyard at times as a way of getting fresh air and some space from her cousins. While there she feeds the chickens, tends to the gardens, and talks with Holgrave, the tenant. Holgrave has led a much different life than Phoebe and has some radical ideas, which he shares with her. Holgrave confesses a great interest in the Pyncheon–Maule rivalry and shares a story about it that focuses on Matthew Maule (the younger), Alice Pyncheon, and Gervayse Pyncheon, Colonel Pyncheon's grandson. The story nearly hypnotizes Phoebe, but Holgrave brings her out of it, and she tells him she is leaving for a few days.

While Phoebe is away, Judge Pyncheon returns. Despite Hepzibah's refusal, he insists on seeing Clifford. This is because Clifford once indicated he knew where the missing deed was to the land in Maine. The family has been searching for the deed since Colonel Pyncheon's days. The large tract of land is valuable. When Hepzibah wants to protect Clifford from the judge, Judge Pyncheon threatens to have Clifford locked up again. The judge claims he pulled strings to have Clifford released. Hepzibah calls Judge Pyncheon greedy but feels she has no choice. As she goes to get Clifford, she is certain this incident will go down in family history.

Death of Judge Pyncheon

When she is unable to find Clifford, Hepzibah returns to ask Judge Pyncheon for his help, but she finds him dead. Suddenly Clifford appears, and he is giddy over seeing Judge Pyncheon dead. He insists he and Hepzibah leave the house. She obliges, and the two of them end up on a train. Suddenly Clifford is talking nonstop and gets into a conversation with a stranger on the train, telling the man that everyone should live on trains instead of in houses and always keep moving toward the future. When the conversation peters out, Clifford tells Hepzibah it is time to leave the train. Once off the train, Clifford loses some of his steam and tells Hepzibah to lead the way home. Hepzibah feels she is not up to the task and prays for help.

Meanwhile, a day passes with Judge Pyncheon's body still in the House of the Seven Gables. People come to the shop but find it closed. When Phoebe returns the next day, she cannot enter the house. Then someone brings her in—Holgrave, as it turns out. He tells her Judge Pyncheon is dead and Hepzibah and Clifford are gone. Phoebe is ready to call the police, but Holgrave is reluctant due to Clifford's history, though both agree he is not capable of murder. At this point, Holgrave declares his love for Phoebe, and she ultimately reciprocates. Hepzibah and Clifford finally make it back to the house.

The Happy Ending

With Judge Pyncheon dead of circumstances similar to those of his uncle, people realize Clifford was wrongly imprisoned for the uncle's death, which was a result of natural causes, not murder. Rumors abound about Judge Pyncheon regarding his involvement in framing Clifford in order to inherit from their wealthy uncle. After his son dies, Judge Pyncheon's money goes to Clifford, Hepzibah, and Phoebe, making them wealthy. The three of them, along with Holgrave and Uncle Venner, move to Judge Pyncheon's country house. Before leaving the house, Holgrave reveals he is a Maule, and he knows where the deed is hidden. It was in the house the whole time—behind the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon.

The House of the Seven Gables Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Matthew Maule curses Colonel Pyncheon, who takes his land.

Rising Action

2 Hepzibah opens a shop in her house to make ends meet.

3 Phoebe arrives at the House of the Seven Gables.

4 Clifford returns from jail, and Phoebe takes care of him.

5 Holgrave shares his theories with Phoebe.

6 Holgrave tells Phoebe about the Pyncheon–Maule conflict.

7 Phoebe leaves the house temporarily, and everyone is sad.

8 Judge Pyncheon insists on seeing Clifford; Hepzibah agrees.


9 Judge Pyncheon dies while in the House of the Seven Gables.

Falling Action

10 Hepzibah and Clifford leave the house and board a train.

11 Holgrave tells Phoebe his perspective on what has occurred.


12 The main characters leave the house for the judge's estate.

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