The House of the Seven Gables is all about how families can mess you up. The Pyncheon family is a bad one – maybe even a cursed one – and it passes bad blood down through the years to perpetuate generations of badness. At the same time, there are a few scattered examples of good family relations: Hepzibah Pyncheon really loves her brother Clifford, for example. But even these positive family emotions have their dark side. Hepzibah has spent the last 30 years of her life locked away in the gloomy ancestral house out of grief for her brother. What's more, now that Clifford is out of jail, he can't even look at Hepzibah because she's so repulsively ugly. So she gets nothing from Clifford in return for her completely unselfish love. We're impressed that Hawthorne can take something as positive as the love between siblings and still make it dark and awful.
In exploring the Pyncheon family's bad blood, Hawthorne uses both Hepzibah's relationship with Clifford and Phoebe's care for her elderly relatives to present an alternative model of family life.
Matthew Maule's curse is a symbolic way for weaker Pyncheons like Hepzibah to understand why their stronger, sterner family members bully and exploit them.