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Themes

The focus of The House of the Seven Gables is on two great crimes: first, Colonel Pyncheon's false accusation of Matthew Maule for witchcraft, and second, Judge Pyncheon's framing of Clifford for murder. But the emphasis isn't on the forensics of these two crimes (this isn't Bones); instead, Hawthorne looks at the psychology that allows guys like Colonel and Judge Pyncheon to ruin others' lives and feel no guilt. Not only do they not feel bad, they actually think they are upstanding, virtuous members of the community. So what's the source of this disconnect? Hawthorne considers several factors: family background, heredity, and public approval all play a role.

Questions About Morality and Ethics

  1. What is the relationship between guilt and morality in The House of the Seven Gables?
  2. How does Phoebe's moral code differ from Mr. Holgrave's? What do these differences tell us about their respective characters?
  3. What is Clifford's moral code? How do Clifford's particular ethics or values influence his relations with other people in the novel?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Phoebe's extreme respect for the law underlines her symbolic connection to the home and to settling down, while Mr. Holgrave's participation in different reform movements of his day highlights his association with movement and progress.

Judge Pyncheon's inability to feel guilt allows him to behave immorally; as a result, we can argue that the ethical basis of The House of the Seven Gables is guilt.

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