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Quotes

Quote #1

This impalpable claim, therefore, resulted in nothing more solid than to cherish, from generation to generation, an absurd delusion of family importance, which all along characterized the Pyncheons. It caused the poorest member of the race to feel as if he inherited a kind of nobility, and might yet come into the possession of princely wealth to support it. [...] Years and years after their claim had passed out of the public memory, the Pyncheons were accustomed to consult the Colonel's ancient map, which had been projected while Waldo County was still an unbroken wilderness. (1.25)

Here, we see the bitter pride of the Pyncheons: they are so convinced of the strength and honor of their origins that they don't pay much attention to building for the future. They are so caught up in dreams of "inherited [...] nobility" that they don't try to establish new legacies for future generations of Pyncheons.

Quote #2

As for Matthew Maule's posterity, it was supposed now to be extinct. For a very long period after the witchcraft delusion, however, the Maules had continued to inhabit the town where their progenitor had suffered so unjust a death. To all appearance, they were a quiet, honest, well-meaning race of people, cherishing no malice against individuals or the public for the wrong which had been done them; or if, at their own fireside, they transmitted from father to child any hostile recollection of the wizard's fate and their lost patrimony, it was never acted upon, nor openly expressed. (1.32)

There is a lot of foreshadowing in this early chapter about the mysterious Maules: "to all appearance" the Maules are quiet and well-meaning. They do not "openly" express resentment over their forefather's lost land. But these adjectives make us wonder what's happening beneath the surface of the Maule family. What might the Maule family have hidden?

Quote #3

Nervously—in a sort of frenzy, we might almost say—she began to busy herself in arranging some children's playthings, and other little wares, on the shelves and at the shop-window. In the aspect of this dark-arrayed, pale-faced, ladylike old figure there was a deeply tragic character that contrasted irreconcilably with the ludicrous pettiness of her employment. It seemed a queer anomaly, that so gaunt and dismal a personage should take a toy in hand; a miracle, that the toy did not vanish in her grasp; a miserably absurd idea, that she should go on perplexing her stiff and sombre intellect with the question how to tempt little boys into her premises! [...] As her rigid and rusty frame goes down upon its hands and knees, in quest of the absconding marbles, we positively feel so much the more inclined to shed tears of sympathy, from the very fact that we must needs turn aside and laugh at her. For here, – and if we fail to impress it suitably upon the reader, it is our own fault, not that of the theme, here is one of the truest points of melancholy interest that occur in ordinary life. It was the final throe of what called itself old gentility. A lady—who had fed herself from childhood with the shadowy food of aristocratic reminiscences, and whose religion it was that a lady's hand soils itself irremediably by doing aught for bread, – this born lady, after sixty years of narrowing means, is fain to step down from her pedestal of imaginary rank. (2.13)

We find this scene quite painful. Hepzibah is totally not designed, either by upbringing or by nature, to open a store. But she has to or else starve to death. The worst thing of all, though, is "her pedestal of imaginary rank." She is only an example of "old gentility" because that's what her family has clung to all of these years. The Pyncheon family has no real aristocratic greatness; they just insist on their importance out of pride. In fact, these categories of family pride seem totally misplaced now that it's 70 years after the American Revolution. Hawthorne observes that this is "the final throe" of old gentility. How do you interpret this line? Is Hawthorne describing a general kind of person who no longer exists? Or is it specifically Hepzibah's "old gentility" that is dying out?

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