Study Guide

The House of the Seven Gables Chapter 17

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 17

The Flight of Two Owls

  • Hepzibah and Clifford are as inexperienced as children as they step out of the yard of the House of the Seven Gables.
  • Clifford looks almost drunk with excitement.
  • Hardly anyone notices Clifford and Hepzibah passing by.
  • Hepzibah continues to feel as though she is walking in a dream.
  • Clifford pulls Hepzibah toward a line of railway cars. He feels as though he has never been awake before.
  • Inside the train, the two elderly Pyncheons are surrounded by 50 completely unfamiliar people.
  • Clifford feels full of life. Hepzibah is fretful.
  • Clifford comments that Hepzibah is still thinking about Judge Pyncheon. But she shouldn't – she should join Clifford in the world and be happy!
  • Hepzibah thinks Clifford has gone insane.
  • The train conductor stops and asks how far Clifford and Hepzibah are going.
  • Clifford says they're traveling for pleasure and want to go as far as they can.
  • A fellow passenger speaks up. The narrator calls him "gimlet-eyed," which means sharp-eyed or piercing.
  • He says Clifford and Hepzibah have chosen a bad day for their excursion. On a day as stormy as this one, it's better to stay home.
  • Clifford says home isn't actually as great as people say it is.
  • He thinks the whole trajectory of humankind has been moving toward the present and the future and away from the past. Homes represent the past, and trains represent the future.
  • Soon we will just keep moving all the time like nomads.
  • The gimlet-eyed man tells Clifford that it would be awful "to live everywhere and nowhere!" (17.24).
  • Clifford thinks that would be the best thing that could happen to humanity.
  • Clifford remembers "a certain house within [his] familiar recollection" (17.25). This house is huge, melancholy, and dark.
  • There is a dead man sitting in it who taints the whole house.
  • Clifford has never been able to be happy there, thanks to the "dead" man "with open eyes."
  • (It's unclear whether he is talking about Judge Pyncheon or Colonel Pyncheon at this point – but does it matter?)
  • The gimlet-eyed man is starting to look rather afraid of Clifford.
  • Clifford says it would be a relief to him if his whole house burned down.
  • Clifford exclaims that this morning he was old, but now he feels young again!
  • The gimlet-eyed man definitely looks embarrassed.
  • Hepzibah tells Clifford to be quiet – everyone thinks he's insane.
  • Clifford turns back to the gimlet-eyed man.
  • Clifford tells the gimlet-eyed man that all of the worst sins committed by humankind are over property.
  • The gimlet-eyed man tells Clifford he's sure he is right. (He just wants to drop the subject.)
  • Clifford suggests that hypnosis will help solve some of the world's troubles.
  • He's also excited about "rapping spirits" (17.38) – i.e., spirits who are supposed to speak up during séances.
  • The gimlet-eyed man thinks this is all nonsense.
  • The gimlet-eyed man does like the telegraph machine, though.
  • Clifford approves of the telegraph machine when it carries messages of love across the country. But he doesn't think it should be used to catch bank robbers or murderers, since it puts them so much at a disadvantage.
  • He gives an example: if a man is running away from a house where there is a corpse sitting up in a chair, would it be fair to have the news of that corpse waiting for him in the next town?
  • The gimlet-eyed man is confused: he "can't see through [Clifford]" (17.45).
  • The train stops at a small station and Clifford and Hepzibah quickly get off.
  • All of Clifford's sudden energy is draining out of him.
  • He tells Hepzibah to figure out what to do next.
  • Hepzibah prays to God to help them.