In Hawthorne’s “The House of The Seven Gables” we are introduced to a multiple of symbols. One of the greatest being the house in itself. The house is used as a representation of human life. It expresses seven forms of human emotions such as fear, love, anger, joy, grief, hope and despair. These are the seven gables. When one gable was in its mood the other gables were in unison with the particular emotion being expressed. These seven gables correspond with the occupants of the house. The four main characters of this tale are Hepzibah an old misunderstood spinster, Clifford the ailing brother, Phoebe with the luminous quality of life in her and Holgrave a mysterious brooding young man.
The first gable of hope is presented to us when Hepzibah after years of living as a recluse must open up a little shopwindow in “The House of The Seven Gables.” However, Hepzibah is reluctant and is only doing so in order to survive. Hepzibah is torn between her past as a lady of leisure and her present condition of entering the working class. Hawthorne captures this turmoil inside of Hepzibah and proceeds with a glimpse of how the house reflects this mood. He writes “the House of the Seven Gables, which, many such sunrises as it had witnessed, looked cheerfully at the present one” (qtd. in Hawthorne 35).
The second gable signifies despair. When the deceptive Judge Pyncheon comes to visit, he notices the house “with especial interest, the dilapidated and rusty visaged House of the Seven Gables” (qtd. in Hawthorne 55). The house is a mirror to Hepzibah’s sense of doom whenever the good Judge is around. Her spirit has deteriorated through self-inflicted isolation. She feels broken but puts up a fight for Clifford’s sake. Hepzibah knows Clifford is too weak to confront the powerful Judge so she tries to protect him.
Later on, we learn the house is in a mood that represents the very image of Holgrave’s character. Hawthorne states “Three of seven gables either fronted or looked sideways, with a dark solemnity of aspect” (qtd. in Hawthorne 81). In this scene, that takes place in the garden, Phoebe meets the serious and moody Holgrave for the very first time. Holgrave has told no one of his true identity of being a Maule, his conflict will be between justice for his ancestors and his love for the radiant Phoebe.
Hawthorne writes “the grime and sordidness of the House of the Seven Gables seemed to have vanished since her appearance there” (123). Here we are aware that the house is in agreement with Phoebe”s joyful character. This is represented by the third gable of joy. Phoebe has a personality that brings happiness and tranquility wherever she goes. It was as if the house knew that Phoebe was an atonement for Alice Pyncheon, the ghost of the House of the Seven Gables.
The fourth gable is love. Hawthorne evokes this image when he writes “the peaks of the seven gables rose up sharply; the shingled roof looked thoroughly watertight; and the glittering plasterwork entirely covered the exterior walls, and sparkled in the October sun, as if it had been new only a week ago” (169).Love rejuvenates the soul. It makes an old spirit feel young again. It brings luster to something that is dull. Love is miraculous, eye opening and the kiss of life. Therefore, the house depicted an emotion being felt by the Pyncheon family at the time.
Hepzibah soon has a premonition that a calamity is about to strike. This leads to our fifth gable which is fear. Hawthorne states “the house itself shivered, from every attic of its seven gables” (197). The house had witnessed Alice Pyncheon’s previous haunting. It was aware that death was about to strike. The house expressed this emotion by shaking the very foundation it was built upon.
When you know that death is about to strike there’s nothing you can do to avert it from happening. You become filled with terror and very quiet. You exhibit the sixth gable of grief before the disaster has happened. This is what occurred when “the old house appeared so dismal to poor Hepzibah” (qtd. Hawthorne 210). It knew of Judge Pyncheon’s impending death and expressed itself accordingly. Its grief was not of one death but of the tragedies observe throughout the generations of Pyncheons.
The last but most powerful gable is anger. Hawthorne writes “The old house creaks again, and makes vociferous but somewhat unintelligible bellowing in its sooty throat (241). The house is outraged at the unnecessary death of Judge Pyncheon. It knows none of these tragedies would have occurred if there had been respect for the property of others. But because of greed and a bold resistance to authority, each generation of Pyncheons fell victim to their ancestor’s curse. A curse that had no real power except the importance they gave it.
Besides the seven gables, Hawthorne uses other symbols within this novel, one of them being the family of chickens. These chickens are a miniature replica of the present day Pyncheons. Chanticleer resembles Clifford because he has two females by his side who take care of him. These two female chickens are the very image of Hepzibah and Phoebe. The smaller chicken may be none other than Holgrave. These chickens have been around since the building of the house. They are ancestors of the original chickens.
Since Clifford and Hepzibah have been impaired by the isolated lives they have led, they have lost the facility of dealing with people through this lack of practice. Because of this Clifford cannot bare to see the chickens in confinement. He likes to see them ramble through the garden. But isn’t it odd that Chanticleer and Clifford were both unaccounted for when Judge Pyncheon’s death occurred?
The symbols that Hawthorne uses in “The House of The Seven Gables” can be compared to his other stories. Take for instance the veil in this novel, it can be compared to his use of the veil in the “Minister’s Veil.” In the “Minister’s Veil” Hawthorne uses the veil to represent that no one is without sin. In “The House of The Seven Gables” he uses the veil in
the same context. Hawthorne writes “this veil under which far more of his spirit was hidden than revealed, and through which he so imperfectly discerned the actual world” (129).
In Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” he tempts Young Goodman Brown with the Devil. The Devil wants Young Goodman Brown to be his worshipers. In “The House of The Seven Gables” Hawthorne uses a cat and suggests that it may be the Devil incarnate. He writes “is it a cat watching for a mouse or the devil for a human soul?” (245). When speaking of young Jaffrey Pyncheon, Hawthorne tells us “that the young man was tempted by the devil, one night, to search his uncle’s private drawers” (271).
In his tale of the “Birthmark” we are told the story of Alymer and Georgiana. Alymer is a scientist who seeks perfection. When he meets Georgiana, he falls in love with her not as a scientist but as a man. But soon the honeymoon is over and Alymer becomes fixated on Georgiana’s birthmark. So fixated is Alymer, that he becomes appalled by the mark on Georgiana’s face. Hawthorne writes “that the slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly imperfection” (Meyer 262). The birthmark represents the uniqueness in every human being. The fact that it is shaped like a tiny hand is significant because it illustrates our relation to humanity.
Hawthorne uses this grasp on the maiden soul in “The House of The Seven Gables.” But instead of a tiny hand he uses a man to have this hold on a young woman. Also, he speaks of “men of strong minds, great force of character, and a hard texture of the sensibilities are very capable of falling into mistakes of this kind” (201). This reminded me that neither Alymer nor Matthew Maule had any intention of killing but instead committed a grave error.
In “Rappacinni’s Daughter” we have once again a scientist of strong mind. In this story Hawthorne uses the garden as ideal setting place. The garden represents a utopia. It isn’t an ordinary garden but the Garden of Eden. This is where the meetings of Beatrice and Giovanni take place.
In “The House of The Seven Gables” the garden is also used for meetings between Phoebe and Holgrave. The garden is reminiscent of Eden because of Hawthorne’s description of it. He describes every aspect of nature in these gardens. By doing this, he shuts out the rest of the world and leaves only the lovers.
In conclusion, Hawthorne is a master of symbolism. In each of the stories I have discussed, he has used one symbol in particular to tell his story. His symbols can be in the forms of animals, settings or objects. Even the name of his character can be symbolic. For instance, the name Clifford can stand for the one which the suspense of the story hangs. In “The House of The Seven Gables” he was the cliffhanger.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Birthmark.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford, St. Martin’s P, 1993.261.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of The Seven Gables. New York: New American Library, 1990.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of The Seven Gables. Ed. Seymour L. Gross. 1st ed. New York: Ohio State University P, 1967.