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The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables


by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The House of the Seven Gables Chapter 3 Summary

The First Customer

  • The door to the shop opens. It's a handsome, somewhat impoverished looking young man: the Pyncheon house lodger, Mr. Holgrave.
  • He congratulates Hepzibah on following through with her plan.
  • She begins to sob: "I wish I were dead, and in the old family-tomb, with all my forefathers!" (3.7).
  • Mr. Holgrave promises that Hepzibah is doing a braver thing now than any Pyncheon woman has ever done.
  • Hepzibah cheers up a bit, but she still thinks that "Maule's ghost" (3.15) must be pleased to see what has become of the Pyncheon family.
  • She gives Mr. Holgrave half a dozen biscuits and refuses to accept any money for them.
  • Two working men walk past the shop.
  • One of the men, Dixey, comments: "Who would have thought it! Old Maid Pyncheon is setting up a cent-shop" (3.21).
  • Dixey tells his friend that there's no way Hepzibah will succeed. These little stores never work out.
  • Hepzibah overhears this conversation and feels hurt.
  • She broods for a bit before the shop door opens again.
  • A little boy named Ned Higgins comes in and asks for one of the Jim Crows in the window.
  • (In this context, a Jim Crow is a cookie in the shape of a dancing black man.
  • Before the Civil War, "Jim Crow" was a stock character, a racist depiction of a black man dancing and singing for the amusement of a white audience. After the Civil War, "Jim Crow" came to mean the laws that were used to establish racial segregation in the South. (Read more in Shmoop's Learning Guide on "Jim Crow in America.")
  • The House of the Seven Gables was published in 1851, long before Jim Crow laws were first passed. Here, "Jim Crow" refers to the stereotyped character.)
  • Hepzibah feels bad asking for the kid's allowance, so she just gives him the cookie without charging him.
  • Ned Higgins runs out of the shop without closing the door, which riles Hepzibah up.
  • Ned Higgins comes in again and asks for the other Jim Crow in the widow.
  • Hepzibah gives it to him, but this time she charges him for it.
  • Hepzibah looks at the copper coin that is her first payment.
  • Even though Hepzibah still feels that her Pyncheon relatives would be ashamed of her, she starts to get excited. She is doing something new for the first time in many years. She feels enlivened in body and in spirit.
  • After this first success, things do not go so well.
  • She gets several customers, but she doesn't have a lot of the things they need – yeast, tobacco, good thread, or ginger beer.
  • Hepzibah is truly annoyed that all her customers treat her as though they are better than her – don't they know that she is a Pyncheon?!
  • But even if she's left with a lot of rage at "the lower classes" (3.48), she also isn't happy with ladies who don't have to work.
  • Hepzibah sees a lovely woman walking past who is plainly rich and idle.
  • Hepzibah thinks, "Must the whole world toil, that the palms of her hands may be kept white and delicate?" (3.49).
  • Then Hepzibah feels ashamed and asks for God's forgiveness.

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