Explain the Gothic elements in The House of the Seven Gables.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most distinctive Gothic elements in Hawthorne's work is the house, itself.  Gothic elements in literature can be found in the element of fear that runs rampant throughout the work.  In this case, the Gothic element of the house itself is of vital importance to the narrative.  The house was obtained under questionable circumstances in terms of Maule's execution, Pyncheon's role in sentencing it, and in the curse upon the latter from the former. The deaths of multiple characters and the lack of explanation behind these help to enhance the Gothic elements in the novel.  These realities converge upon the house, itself.   The house embodies that Gothic element of fear, supernatural curses, and something beyond that confounds the mind and confuses the imagination:

Never had the old house appeared so dismal to poor Hepzibah, as when she departed on that wretched errand. There was a strange aspect in it. As she trode along the foot-worn passages, and opened one crazy door after another, and ascended the creaking staircase, she gazed wistfully and fearfully around. It would have been no marvel, to her excited mind, if, behind or beside her, there had been the rustle of dead people's garments, or pale visages awaiting her on the landing place above. 

In Hawthorne's description of the house, there are several descriptors that represent the house as a Gothic element.  The "strange aspect" helps to convey that Gothic sense of fear in the unknown.  This is enhanced with "foot- worn passages" and "the creaking staircase."  Both of these descriptors convey the unknown, a deeper story that lies beyond what is present.  The "rustle of dead people's garments" and employment of "pale visages" help to convey the Gothic sensibility of curses and prophecies from previous times impacting the present tense.  Even Hepzibah herself can be seen on a type of Gothic quest, a maze where the ending point is unclear and confusion surrounds the protagonist in how she "strode along."  She is not depicted as triumphantly walking along or taking leaps and bounds in a confident manner.  Rather, she is depicted as a smaller part of something larger, more mysterious, and embodying that which is Gothic.

One can also see Gothic elements in the way characters interact with one another.  The manner in which characters are shown is one where the Gothic element is present.  One example of this is in how Hawthorne describes Holgrave and what might lie within his mind:

Meanwhile, Holgrave took some pains to establish an intercourse with Clifford, actuated, it might seem, entirely by an impulse of kindliness, in order that the present hour might be cheerfuller than most which the poor recluse had spent, or was destined yet to spend. Nevertheless, in the artist's deep, thoughtful, all-observant eyes, there was, now and then, an expression, not sinister, but questionable; as if he had some other interest in the scene than a stranger, a youthful and unconnected adventurer, might be supposed to have.

Hawthorne's language is reflective of Gothic elements.  Holgrave is shown to possess something more than what is on the surface, "an expression, not sinister, but questionable." A Gothic characterization is present in the "other interest" that Hawthorne imbues in Holgrave.  This continues in how Holgrave speaks of the past.  Holgrave, the artist, speaks to the Gothic element of mystery and suspense that is a part of the entire narrative.  When Holgrave asks “Shall we never never get rid of this Past? ... It lies upon the Present like a giant's dead body," it conveys a Gothic view of human consciousness.  It also speaks to how human beings are immersed in in the Gothic element of forces that lie beyond individual control.  In Hawthorne's narrative style itself, the Gothic element of emotion is evident in lines such as “For, what other dungeon is so dark as one's own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one's self!”   The sorrow intrinsic to the human condition, one that rebuts any notion of advancement and progress and in its place places hurt, pain, and devolution is another Gothic element present in the narrative.  The ending where the past is escaped is a concluding Gothic element, reflective of how human beings struggle under the weight of a consciousness that can only be navigated and never be fully understood or appropriated.

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