Hawthorne's characters should never be studied in isolation. They are basically symbolic, and out of context they often appear incomplete and unsatisfactory. Hawthorne's writing does not permit a dominant "hero" or "heroine," nor does he encourage us to identify with his fictional characters as individuals. In all his major novels, Hawthorne's characters must be studied in their relationship to the groups of which they are a part. In The House of the Seven Gables, this group is composed of Clifford, Hepzibah, Holgrave, Judge Jaffrey, and Phoebe. Hepzibah and Clifford have been overshadowed by the curse of the house, and they are powerless to help themselves. Although passive and helpless, Hepzibah and Clifford are the most interesting of the characters; they are certainly more complex and profound than the simple, youthful Phoebe. The Judge appears to be the agent of what evil there is in the book, and Phoebe, the agent of what is good. Holgrave, in contrast, has little to do with the action.
All the characters, however, are incomplete in themselves. Phoebe is too sweet, a mere ingenue; Hepzibah and Clifford are a bit ludicrous, and in their defenselessness they are sometimes nearly contemptible; the Judge is too melodramatically villainous, and Holgrave is often too dry. Yet, together, they make up a design, and it is incorrect to suppose that Hawthorne intended them to be other than what they are.