Subsequent Generations Inherit the Sins of Their Ancestors
As stated in the preface, one of the primary themes in The House of the Seven Gables is that “the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones.” In this case, Colonel Pyncheon’s support of Matthew Maule’s prosecution and ultimate execution start the chain of events that seem to carry down through the generations. Just before his death, Matthew Maule (the elder) curses Colonel Pyncheon, stating that “God will give him blood to drink.” During the Colonel’s first house warming festivities, he indeed dies with blood covering his beard and shirt. This first death is followed by the similar deaths of old Jaffrey Pyncheon and his nephew, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon. Although these deaths can be attributed to a family predisposition for apoplexy, the existence of the curse and the similar nature of each death suggest something supernatural about the way in which such sinful behavior resurfaces within a family’s lineage. This supernatural element conveys the idea that individuals are somewhat unable to control their own destinies. Another way to read Hawthorne’s suggested theme, however, is that in this case, the Pyncheon family was not cursed by Matthew Maule and his supernatural powers as much as they were by their own folly. Colonel Pyncheon, old Jaffrey Pyncheon, Alice Pyncheon, and Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon all die because of either their own avarice or that of one of their close family members. To this extent, then, the responsibility for evil or wrong doing lies with the individual rather than with the ancestors who may have made similarly poor decisions and had similar personality and character flaws.
Class Distinctions and the Fall of the Aristocracy
Hawthorne devotes much of his commentary in this novel to the discussion of class. This theme is first introduced by the distinctions between the Pyncheon and Maule families and their descendents. The Pyncheons were a prominent, wealthy, and successful family while the Maules were “generally poverty-stricken; always plebian and obscure; working with unsuccessful diligence at handicrafts; laboring on the wharves, or following the sea.” Despite the general financial success of the Pyncheon family, one of...
(The entire section is 1,053 words.)