Social Concerns / Themes
As he does in The Scarlet Letter (1850), Hawthorne takes for the subject of The House of the Seven Gables the history of his New England forebears. Concentrating on the rigid social dicta which governed the lives — both public and private — of the citizens of Salem, Massachusetts, he presents a graphic image of the cruelties which resulted from adherence to strict codes of behavior which fail to take into account human feelings.
One might reduce the principal theme of The House of the Seven Gables to a single quotation from the Bible: "The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon their sons." Certainly at the heart of the novel is the notion that the behavior of one's ancestors determines in a significant way the present opportunities and attitudes of succeeding generations. Through the story of the Pyncheon family, the novelist demonstrates how an ancient curse — here used metaphorically to describe the effects ensuing from the sin committed by the original Colonel Pyncheon in defrauding Matthew Maule — can only be broken when the family performs some act of redemption. The complex plot of the novel is designed to create the circumstances under which the generations of Pyncheons whose story is central to Hawthorne's story are able to rid themselves of the curse by renouncing the House — another symbol, used by the author to represent graphically the ill-gotten advantage which the Pyncheons had realized as a result of the...
(The entire section is 287 words.)