Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505
Clifford Pyncheon returns to his ancestral home, the house of the seven gables, after years of imprisonment for a crime he did not commit. He finds that his reclusive sister, Hepzibah, has opened a shop in the front of the house in order to supplement the fading family fortunes. Living with her is a cousin from the country, Phoebe, who is acting as a companion and housekeeper, and Mr. Holgrave, the local daguerreotypist and a distant relative of Matthew Maule, from whom the Pyncheons originally stole the property on which the house stands. The death of Judge Pyncheon, another cousin and the last in the line descended from the usurpers of Maule’s property, provides Clifford, Hepzibah, and Phoebe with an inheritance of great wealth and a home in the country. At the end of the novel, they all prepare to vacate the old house and to celebrate the marriage of Phoebe and Holgrave, thus uniting the younger generation of the two feuding families and bringing the curse to an end.
Hawthorne intended the happy ending of his romance to lighten the darker elements of the tale and to give it what he called a sunshine ending. On first glance this may seem uncharacteristic of his fiction, but if one examines his work beyond the Puritan stories, there are more sunshine endings than are typical of the earlier, more somber works. Nevertheless, one of the enduring fascinations of this novel is the tension created between the ending and the rather dark nature of the body of the work.
Abel, Darrel. The Moral Picturesque: Studies in Hawthorne’s Fiction. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1988. Sees the novel as an allegory about love versus self-love, tradition versus ambition and pride, and imagination versus preoccupation with the present fact.
Donohue, Agnes McNeill. Hawthorne: Calvin’s Ironic Stepchild. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1985. Calls the novel Hawthorne’s attempt to “gloss over” his basically tragic view that the parents’ sins are visited upon the children. Argues that its dominant symbol, after the house itself, is the garden of Eden, which in turn is connected to the idea of the Fall. Claims the book’s ending indicates that Phoebe and Holgrave will be tempted into another Fall.
Male, Roy R. Hawthorne’s Tragic Vision. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1957. Argues that the book’s theme is the interpenetration of past and present. Breaks new ground in the critical understanding of Hawthorne.
Martin, Terrence. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Focuses on ways in which Hawthorne and his characters view the effects of the past on the present. Also investigates the novel’s treatment of Hawthorne’s theme of the relationship between head (Holgrave) and heart (Phoebe).
Waggoner, Hyatt H. The Presence of Hawthorne. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979. Originally an introduction to an edition of the novel, the chapter “From Darkness to Light” argues that the book expresses Hawthorne’s “greatly desired belief in the possibility of redemption from evil.” Also shows that the book is “radically democratic.”