Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The House of the Seven Gables is a colonial house built in the English style of half-timber and half-plaster. It stands on Pyncheon Street in quiet Salem. The house was built by Colonel Pyncheon, who wrested the desirable site from Matthew Maule, a poor man executed as a wizard. Colonel Pyncheon was responsible for the execution, and he takes the doomed man’s land, so Maule, at the moment of his execution, declares that God will give the Pyncheons blood to drink. Despite this grim prophecy, the colonel has his house, and its builder is Thomas Maule, son of the old wizard.
Colonel Pyncheon, dying in his great oak chair just after the house is completed, chokes with blood so that his shirtfront is stained scarlet. Although doctors explain the cause of his death as apoplexy, the townsfolk had not forgotten old Maule’s prophecy. The time of the colonel’s death is auspicious. It is said that he just completed a treaty by which he bought huge tracts of land from the Indians, but this deed was not confirmed by the general court and was never discovered by any of his heirs. Rumor also has it that a man was seen leaving the house about the time Colonel Pyncheon died.
More recently, another startling event occurred at the House of the Seven Gables. Jaffrey Pyncheon, a bachelor, was found dead in the colonel’s great oaken armchair, and his nephew, Clifford Pyncheon, was sentenced to imprisonment after being found guilty of the murder of his...
(The entire section is 1169 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The House of the Seven Gables is based upon another of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” To illustrate his thesis, Hawthorne drew upon another verse from the book of Exodus, which reads in part: “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” Hawthorne’s scope in this work was considerably more ambitious than that of The Scarlet Letter, a story which covered a time span of less than ten years.
In The House of the Seven Gables, the author tries to show how Old Maule’s curse afflicts his false accuser and all his descendants for two centuries. In this, Hawthorne is not entirely successful, but his was a gallant effort. Henry James said of this novel:[I]t has always seemed to me more like a prologue to a great novel than a great novel itself. I think this is partly owing to the fact that the subject . . . of the story, does not quite fill it out, and that we get at the same time an impression of certain complicated purposes on the author’s part, which seem to reach beyond it.
To deal with all the descendants of the greedy and malicious Colonel Pyncheon over a period of two hundred years would require several thick volumes. Hawthorne attempted to cope with this artistic problem by dramatizing the plight of the last few descendants and referring to the others...
(The entire section is 1346 words.)
Plot Summary: Preface - Part X
The House of the Seven Gables begins with a preface in which Hawthorne makes a point to tell readers that the tale they are about to read is a “Romance” rather than a traditional “Novel.” He proceeds to say that because the story is written as a Romance, it gives him creative license to present reader’s with his selective understanding of the truth instead of binding him to being true to life. He notes that Romances give writers a creative and subjective license to “mellow the lights and deepen and enrich the shadows of the picture.” Hawthorne also tells readers that the moral purpose of his work is to convey the notion that “the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones.” Despite this claim, however, he notes that he has not tried “to impale the story with its moral.” Finally, Hawthorne concludes that he did not intend to correlate the location or events in the story with any particular place or happenings in the County of Essex.
I: The Old Pyncheon Family
The first chapter opens with a description of the House of the Seven Gables, its history, and that of the Pyncheon and Maule families. In the mid- 1600s, Matthew Maule (the elder) settles in the County of Essex and establishes a homestead. Soon thereafter, Colonel Pyncheon decides he would like to build his familial estate on Matthew’s land. Matthew refuses to surrender his land. He is then put on trial for witchcraft and...
(The entire section is 2646 words.)
Plot Summary: Part XI - Part XXI
XI: The Arched Window
In addition to taking Clifford to the garden, Phoebe often brings him to sit in front of the window that faces the street. From there, he watches passersby. Clifford finds all of the new inventions strange, including the omnibus, the water-cart, the cab, and the railroad steam-devil. He prefers the things of his past, like the butcher’s cart, the fishcart, and the scissor-grinder. One afternoon, an organ player stops in front of the house. While the greedy monkey plies the crowd for money, the organ player turns the crank, which plays music and also sets a host of small figures into action. The narrator notes that despite the actions engaged in by each figure, when the music stops, they have come no further than when they started. The cobbler does not finish making his shoe, the blacksmith’s iron is not shaped, and the milkmaid has fetched no milk. Clifford enjoys the music but finally cries about the monkey because of its physical and spiritual ugliness. On another day, a procession passes the house and while watching the throngs of people, Clifford makes an attempt to jump into the crowd from the balcony. He is stopped by Phoebe and Hepzibah, but the narrator notes that such a plunge into the sea of humanity may have been a help to him. One Sunday, Clifford and Hepzibah decide to go to church. The two ready themselves but are unable to step out of the house. Clifford claims that they are ghosts whose only place is right there...
(The entire section is 2712 words.)