Ideas for Group Discussions
Critics and general readers alike agree that most of Hawthorne's fiction has a quality of "density" about it; that is, the surface tale is related in such a way as to suggest deeper levels of significance. The House of the Seven Gables is no exception. Although the work has all the trappings of a Gothic romance, the story of the curse on the House of Pyncheon appears to most readers to be more serious than its surface details indicate. Careful attention to parallels established between characters, and between characters and setting, as well as allusions to other literary works and events in history, give the novel a richness of meaning which becomes apparent on repeated readings.
1. Hawthorne takes great pains to describe in detail the physical setting for his story, especially the House and its contents; he is also concerned with the physical setting of the town of Salem. How does he use setting as a commentary on the Pyncheon family and on New England society in general?
2. Although most of the novel is told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, Hawthorne occasionally adopts a more limited perspective, relating events through one or the characters in the story. What is the effect of this technique? What is the novelist trying to achieve by shifting his perspective?
3. Hawthorne is a careful novelist, creating details about his characters which reveal something relevant to one of more of his themes. One example is his choice of professions for Holgrave. Why is it significant that the male protagonist is a daguerrotypist? What evidence suggests the symbolic function of this choice? How does it help illuminate a key theme in the novel?
4. How does Hawthorne use music as a unifying structural device in the novel? What can we learn about characters and themes by paying careful attention to the occurrence of music or to references to music in the narrative?
5. A number of critics have complained about the happy ending of the novel, claiming Hawthorne has not prepared readers adequately for the reversal of fortunes which save his protagonists. Do you agree with these critics, or do you think the writer has given sufficient indication in the text to support the conclusion he has written?