The House of the Seven Gables
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The House of the Seven Gables Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
From father to son, they clung to the ancestral house with singular tenacity of home attachment. For various reasons, however, and from impressions often too vaguely founded to be put on paper, the writer cherishes the belief that many, if not most, of the successive proprietors of this estate were troubled with doubts as to their moral right to hold it. Of their legal tenure there could be no question; but old Matthew Maule, it is to be feared, trode downward from his own age to a far later one, planting a heavy footstep, all the way, on the conscience of a Pyncheon. If so, we are left to dispose of the awful query, whether each inheritor of the property—conscious of wrong, and failing to rectify it—did not commit anew the great guilt of his ancestor, and incur all its original responsibilities. And supposing such to be the case, would it not be a far truer mode of expression to say of the Pyncheon family, that they inherited a great misfortune, than the reverse? (1.26)
Every time each new generation of Pyncheons decides to live in this tainted house they repeat the original sin of stealing from Matthew Maule. Is this just? What moral code does Hawthorne apply here? How much responsibility do you think families should bear for the wrongs of their ancestors?
I can assure you that this is a modern face, and one which you will very probably meet. Now, the remarkable point is, that the original wears, to the world's eye, – and, for aught I know, to his most intimate friends, – an exceedingly pleasant countenance, indicative of benevolence, openness of heart, sunny good-humor, and other praiseworthy qualities of that cast. The sun, as you see, tells quite another story, and will not be coaxed out of it, after half a dozen patient attempts on my part. Here we have the man, sly, subtle, hard, imperious, and, withal, cold as ice. Look at that eye! Would you like to be at its mercy? At that mouth! Could it ever smile? And yet, if you could only see the benign smile of the original! It is so much the more unfortunate, as he is a public character of some eminence, and the likeness was intended to be engraved. (6.20)
Obviously Hawthorne has a heavy hand with the symbols. Mr. Holgrave's daguerreotype brings out the side of Judge Pyncheon most of the world never sees: his coldness, cruelty, and ambition. We see these sides of Pyncheon's character before we meet him in person in the novel. It's striking how much faith Hawthorne seems to put in appearances. Judge Pyncheon is unusual in the novel in that his appearance is deceptive. He is a hypocrite, so he can hide his essentially evil nature. But characters like Phoebe and Mr. Holgrave look exactly like what they are: kind, quiet, and decent folk. Is it that their faces determine their characters, or that their characters determines their faces? How do you feel about this idea that we look like what we are (unless we're particularly crafty, like Judge Pyncheon)? How much can a person's appearance truly tell us about them?
It was very remarkable into what prominent relief—even as if a dim picture should leap suddenly from its canvas—Clifford's character was thrown by this apparently trifling annoyance [of the jangle of the shop bell]. The secret was, that an individual of his temper can always be pricked more acutely through his sense of the beautiful and harmonious than through his heart. It is even possible – for similar cases have often happened – that if Clifford, in his foregoing life, had enjoyed the means of cultivating his taste to its utmost perfectibility, that subtile attribute might, before this period, have completely eaten out or filed away his affections. Shall we venture to pronounce, therefore, that his long and black calamity may not have had a redeeming drop of mercy at the bottom? (7.48)
This scene of Clifford's first appearance in the novel is really interesting. Up until now, we've gotten a romantic image of Clifford's sensitivity and delicacy from the miniature portrait that Hepzibah treasures so much. But with Clifford's actual appearance, we see the flip side of his sensitivity: he cares more about beauty than about people. He is horrified and annoyed by the jangle of Hepzibah's shop bell, without asking why she might need to open a shop. Hepzibah must explain (with dignity) that the family is very poor. Clifford then points out (to his credit) that Hepzibah's having to open a shop seems like less of a blot on the family name than his having spent 30 years in jail. We find it intriguing to note that Hawthorne sees some good coming out of Clifford's long imprisonment: without that injustice, his nature might have led him to grow totally spoiled and selfish. So there does seem to be a silver lining to Clifford's unhappy fate.