The House of the Seven Gables By Nathaniel Hawthorne Summary and Analysis Chapters 19-20

Summary

The morning is gloriously sunny. The once old and dark Pyncheon house now seems alive and happy, and Alice Pyncheon's posies glow red in a corner of one of the upper mossy eaves. Uncle Venner tries to obtain some leftover vegetables for his pigs, but no one answers his knock at the Pyncheon house, although Holgrave yells a greeting to him. Various neighbors and potential customers of the shop gossip that Hepzibah and her brother must have gone to Judge Pyncheon's country estate. The passing butcher is also annoyed when Hepzibah fails to emerge and buy some choice cuts from him. The young Italian hurdy-gurdy player and his monkey give a performance, but even they fail to elicit any response from the house. A rumor then erupts that the Judge has been murdered, and thus the city marshal is consulted. Crowds suddenly begin to avoid the house, but a few daring young boys race each other past its gloomy confines.

Soon Phoebe returns from the country; observing the untidy garden, she too senses a change. As she tries a door near the garden, it opens, oddly, from the inside. Holgrave then gently leads the anxious girl to a big, empty room, where he asks for her wisdom and strength as he shows her a recent picture which he just made of Judge Pyncheon, sitting in death. Worried about Hepzibah and Clifford, Holgrave explains that for certain reasons, Clifford will probably be associated with these events. It is possible, Holgrave explains, that the Colonel, the uncle, and now the Judge all died because of a similar hereditary weakness. He adds that, in his opinion, the natural death of the bachelor Pyncheon uncle was staged by the Judge to look like murder, a murder for which Clifford was unjustly imprisoned. For a brief moment, Holgrave and Phoebe forget the presence of death and exchange tender vows of love, in spite of her brief objection that she is too simple for his pathless ways.

Analysis

In Chapter 19, Hawthorne points out a tiny sunbeam which finds its way into the dusky old Pyncheon parlor, and then he traces it as it rises off the corpse of the Judge, a man who will no longer walk the streets, with his smile of elaborate, fraudulent benevolence. The irony continues as the Pyncheon elm is suddenly filled with the morning sun. In fact, one branch of the elm has been "transmuted to bright gold."

For a time, on this early morning, nature surrounds the house with benign light and sound and motion. But while the elm makes a pleasant, cheerful, sunny sigh, elsewhere there is a swarm of insects buzzing under its drooping shadows, and a solitary little bird hovers over Alice's posies. The house, however, still remains a silent and impenetrable mansion. The butcher, peering through a curtain, catches a glimpse of "stalwart legs, clad in black, of a man sitting in a large oaken chair." This is the dead Judge. The silence of the house rouses uneasiness. Children take alarm and run away, looking back at the grotesque peaks and shadowy angles of the old mansion.

In these two chapters, Hawthorne calls upon a number of resources to strengthen the implications of his story and his characters by weaving an intricate pattern of his imagery, his symbols, and his myth. Angular and circular images begin and end the work, especially the decaying angular house and the spherical, cyclical elm; the elm, in particular, is especially dominant at the end of the novel. Images of light and dark also play an important part in defining for us the metaphorical dimension behind the story. For example, Phoebe enters the house "from the sunny daylight," and is almost blinded by the "density of shadows" lurking in the passages of the old house.

The implications of Hawthorne's many symbolic images are supported and extended by the use that he makes of the Bible. From Psalm 49, the description of the wealthy and unjust landowners fits Hawthorne's treatment of the Pyncheons, and several verses in the psalm appear to be directly reflected in The House of the Seven Gables, particularly those containing images of seeing and darkness and light. In Psalm 49, the rich "trust in their wealth," forgetting that they are "like the beasts that perish." They are perfectly confident that "their houses shall continue forever" and so "call their lands after their own names." Yet, "death shall feed on them," like the fly on Judge Pyncheon's sightless eyes, and "the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning" — as Holgrave has dominion over the dead Judge when he takes his photograph and when he hovers over Phoebe in the garden. After the landowners parish, they join their ancestors in the darkness and "shall never see the light" — as Hepzibah has done, living with her literal and metaphorical near-sightedness and as the Judge has done, dying with open eyes.

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