The House of the Seven Gables
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
First Person (Peripheral Narrator)
The narrative voice of The House of the Seven Gables is totally bizarre. The narrator has total access to all of the internal feelings of the characters; in fact, it often feels like a third-person omniscient narrator. But – it's not. It's a single dude, an unnamed peripheral character who somehow seems to be able to see magically straight into the hearts and minds of the Pyncheons. We know this is a first-person narrator right off the bat, in the first paragraph of the novel:
Half-way down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. [...] On my occasional visits to the town aforesaid, I seldom failed to turn down Pyncheon Street, for the sake of passing through the shadow of these two antiquities, – the great elm-tree and the weather-beaten edifice. (1.1)
The phrase "our New England towns" creates a sort of complicity between the reader and the narrator – we share something as Americans (clearly he's not thinking that his writing is being read outside of the U.S.). Furthermore, the narrator makes "occasional visits" to this unnamed town, which clearly stands in for Salem. "My" occasional visits, he says. But he presents himself as strictly a passerby in relation to the House of the Seven Gables; he's not part of the story at all – he's peripheral to it. Hawthorne might choose this narrative perspective to emphasize the ways that The House of the Seven Gables blurs Hawthorne's personal experiences with Salem and the fictional events of the novel itself. There's also an intriguing overlap between Hawthorne as narrator and Mr. Holgrave as character – check out "Characters: Mr. Holgrave" for more on this.