The House Of Seven Gables: Symbolism Essay

This essay has a total of 2552 words and 10 pages.

The House Of Seven Gables: Symbolism

The House of Seven Gables: Symbolism


American Literature reflects life, and the struggles that we face during
our existence. The great authors of our time incorporate life's problems into
their literature directly and indirectly. The stories themselves bluntly tell
us a story, however, an author also uses symbols to relay to us his message in a
more subtle manner. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's book The House of Seven Gable's
symbolism is eloquently used to enhance the story being told, by giving us a
deeper insight into the author's intentions in writing the story.
The book begins by describing the most obvious symbol of the house
itself. The house itself takes on human like characteristics as it is being
described by Hawthorne in the opening chapters. The house is described as
"breathing through the spiracles of one great chimney"(Hawthorne 7). Hawthorne
uses descriptive lines like this to turn the house into a symbol of the lives
that have passed through its halls. The house takes on a persona of a living
creature that exists and influences the lives of everybody who enters through
its doors. (Colacurcio 113) "So much of mankind's varied experience had passed
there - so much had been suffered, and something, too, enjoyed - that the very
timbers were oozy, as with the moisture of a heart." (Hawthorne 27). Hawthorne
turns the house into a symbol of the collection of all the hearts that were
darkened by the house. "It was itself like a great human heart, with a life of
its own, and full of rich and somber reminiscences" (Hawthorne 27). Evert
Augustus Duyckinck agrees that "The chief perhaps, of the dramatis personae, is
the house itself. From its turrets to its kitchen, in every nook and recess
without and within, it is alive and vital." (Hawthorne 352) Duyckinck feels
that the house is meant to be used as a symbol of an actual character, "Truly it
is an actor in the scene"(Hawthorne 352). This turns the house into an
interesting, but still depressing place that darkens the book in many ways.
Hawthorne means for the house's gloomy atmosphere to symbolize many things in
his book.
The house also is used to symbolize a prison that has darkened the lives
of its inmates forever. The house is a prison because it prevents its
inhabitants form truly enjoying any freedom. The inhabitants try to escape from
their incarceration twice. Initially, as Phoebe and Clifford watch the parade
of life in the street, Clifford "realizes his state of isolation from the ‘one
broad mass of existence-one great life, - one collected body of mankind,' and he
cannot resist the actual physical attempt to plunge down into the ‘surging
stream of human sympathy'" (Rountree 101). Dillingham believes that "Hawthorne
clearly describes Clifford's great need to become reunited with the world and
hints that this reunion can be accomplished only by death" (Rountree 101).
However, Clifford inevitably fails to win his freedom, and he returns to the
solace of his prison house. Clifford and Hepzibah attempt once more to escape
their captive prison, but the house has jaded them too much already (Rountree
102). This is apparent when
Hepzibah and her brother made themselves ready- as ready as they could,
in the best of their old-fashion garments, which had hung on pegs, or been laid
away in trunks, so long that the dampness and mouldy smell of the past was on
them - made themselves ready, in their faded bettermost, to go to church. They
descended the staircase together, … pulled open the front door, and stept across
the threshold, and felt, both of them, as if they were standing in the presence
of the whole world… Their hearts quaked within them, at the idea of taking one
step further. (Hawthorne 169)
Hepzibah and Clifford are completely cut off from the outside world. They
are like prisoners who after being jailed for decades return to find a world
they do not know.(Rountree 101). Clifford is deeply saddened when he says, " ‘
We are ghosts! We have no right among human beings - no right anywhere, but in
this old house"(Hawthorne 169). The house has imprisoned their souls and
trapped their lives. Hence, the house symbolizes a prison for its inhabitants.
The house also symbolizes the history of the of Pyncheon family dating back
to the original Colonel Pyncheon who had been cursed by Matthew Maule for the
evil way in which the Colonel obtained the land for the house. The house has
collected memories upon memories of the people who have lived there, beginning
with its original owners the Colonel and Alice Pyncheon. This point of
symbolism is argued by E. P. Whipple who thinks that the house's elaborate
interior symbolizes the history of the Pyncheon Family. It has mostly the
gloomy and grim feel, that was left by the Colonel. However, it also possesses
in some places "that delicate Alice, ‘the fragrance of whose rich and delightful
character lingered about the place where she lived, as a dried rose-bud scents
the drawer where it has withered and perished'" (Crowley 200). The houses rich
history turns it into a very telling symbol of the Pyncheon family. The house
can also be seen as a symbol of darkness versus the light of outside. Almost
all that is linked with the history of the house by the Pyncheon family seems to
be dragged down into a gloomy existence by the house. In the beginning of the
book, one of the few item in the house that is still bright is a tea set.
"Hepzibah brought out some old silver spoons, with the family crest upon them,
and a China tea-set … still unfaded, although the tea-pot and small cups were as
ancient as the custom itself of tea-drinking" (Hawthorne 77). This tea set is
allowed to still shine only because it was bought into the family by a wife of
the colonel, and therefore she was not a Pyncheon. However, everything and
everyone else in the house is slowly decaying. Clifford is readily seen in this
manner by Phoebe, when his entrance into the room "made her feel as if a ghost
were coming into the room" (Hawthorne 103). Clifford's clothes are even used as
symbols of the effects that the house has on all of its prisoners. Clifford is
seen in a "dressing-gown of faded damask", that has been soiled over time by the
house (Hawthorne 103). Hawthorne also mentions the carpet in the Colonel's room
that was once plush and fine, but it is now worn, ragged and old, because it
like all other things in the house has become darkened. The house embodies all
that is wicked in mankind. "The House of Seven Gables, one for each deadly sin,
may be no unmeet adumbration of the corrupted soul of man" (Crowley 192).
Ironically, this is all contrasted with the street which is constantly portrayed
as a bright, cheerful, and active place. Clifford would often look at the
window to the street, and what he would see would "give him a more vivid sense
of active, bustling, and sunshiny existence" then he could ever find in the
house (Hawthorne 162). Hawthorne portrays the street as containing light and
life, while the house contains darkness and emptiness.
Hawthorne uses many symbols in his writing, but the most obvious is the
house. It is used to symbolize and tell us many things. The house, however, is
not the only symbol Hawthorne uses in his novel. He also uses the portrait of
Colonel Pyncheon to symbolize the evil that still watches over the house. The
portrait has an unsettling effect on many of the house's inhabitants, and it is
even compared to the likeness of Judge Pyncheon. It is possibly this likeness
and the evil feel Clifford has for the picture that leads him to command
Hepzibah to "pray cover it with a crimson curtain … It must not stare me in the
face!" (Hawthorne 111). The portrait also possesses the very sought after deed,
but it keeps the family from reaching the deed because it is hidden in a recess
behind the picture. Similarly, the Pyncheon family has had several past
problems because of greed over the deed (Abel 263). The picture has always held
the deed which is a way to escape from the house, but the picture instead holds
Continues for 5 more pages >>