Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

House of the Seven Gables

House of the Seven Gables. Colonial house built in the English style of half-timber and half-plaster on Pyncheon Street in an unnamed town in Massachusetts. The house had been built by Colonel Pyncheon, who had wrested the desirable site from Matthew Maule, a poor man executed as a wizard. Colonel Pyncheon was responsible for Maule’s execution and took the doomed man’s land. At the moment of his execution, Maule declared that God would give the Pyncheons blood to drink. Despite this grim prophecy, the colonel had his house, and its builder was Thomas Maule, son of the condemned wizard.

Just as the personality of a character evolves over the course of a story, the personality and appearance of the house change as the narrative unfolds. In the late 1600’s, when Colonel Pyncheon first erects the building, it is the most opulent structure in the town. Located on the outskirts, it reflects the colonel’s wealth, social position, and love of fine things. However, because he swindled Maule out of the land on which the house stands, it is also a symbol of the colonel’s cold, greedy, and dishonest nature.

In the years that follow, Gervayse, the colonel’s grandson, and Gervayse’s beautiful daughter, Alice, occupy the house, and it again reflects the character of its occupants. The narrator points out that, although the dwelling is beginning to show its age, it is still a solid, pleasant mansion, whose interior has been redecorated to reflect Gervayse’s sophisticated European tastes. The presence of the lovely and exotic-looking Alice gives the place a graceful air.

By 1850, when the spinster Hepzibah Pyncheon lives in the house, nature and age have taken their toll on the building. Moss covers its roof and windows, and flowering shrubs known as Alice’s posies grow between two of the house’s gables. The interior of the house is dark and dusty, much like the old woman who inhabits it. Once a public symbol of the Pyncheons’ wealth and power, the mansion now...

(The entire section is 838 words.)