The House of the Seven Gables
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The House of the Seven Gables Theme of Gender
Hawthorne's depiction of women in The House of the Seven Gables definitely shows signs of his times: his pity and horror at Hepzibah's ugliness and his giant crush on young, pretty Phoebe get a little embarrassing at times. Also, Hawthorne seems to associate strength with masculinity and weakness with femininity: for example, young Clifford is described as "beautiful" and "sweet" (5.21) – as opposed to the stern, frightening Judge Pyncheon.
But despite this apparently negative opposition, Hawthorne also compliments "the woman's, the private and domestic, view of a public man" (8.20) as more indicative of a man's actual character. Official records are all written by the winners. No public documents are going to tell you that a man is self-righteous or hypocritical; they'll just pass on the party line about his goodness. If you want to know the real story of whether someone is a bully or a cheat, you should listen to tradition, gossip, and private conversations – forms of speech that Hawthorne associates with women. That's where real truth (or at least, a version of it) lies.
Questions About Gender
- How does Hawthorne depict Hepzibah and Phoebe differently? What can these differences tell us (if anything) about Hawthorne's attitude toward women?
- How does Phoebe fulfill the 19th-century feminine ideal of the Angel in the Home? How does Hawthorne draw our attention to her angelic nature?
- What moral traits does Hawthorne attach to masculinity and to femininity? How does he value masculinity and femininity in comparison to one another?
Chew on This
Despite the restricted social roles that Hawthorne creates for his female characters, he does place more moral value on the private lives and conversation of women like Phoebe than he does on the public lives of men like Judge Pyncheon.
By contrasting the characters of Hepzibah and Phoebe, Hawthorne creates an image of the perfect woman as young, beautiful, socially active, industrious, and self-sacrificing.