Nathaniel Hawthorne was a kind of writer who was much ahead of his time. This present novel is another masterpiece which clearly reveals this fact. In this novel Hawthorne has again tried to yolk together his fantasy with some elements of realism. This novel has similar intensity of grimness which The Scarlet Letter had. The plot of the novel is not very simple it is little bit complex to understand. Hawthorne has developed few vital ideas and concepts while formulating this novel. Some of these ideas are very noteworthy like the everlasting consequences of an evil deed and the deplorable nature of the family pride. Hawthorne is a kind of writer who feels very comfortable in dealing with the topics like evil lineage or heredity. It seems that the author cannot forget his own evil lineage. Readers are aware that Hawthorne is trying to write about himself. So many critics have said that there is something autobiographical in almost every work of Hawthorne. The outline of the plot is very powerful. The origination of the story lies in an act of evil done by Colonel Pyncheon to Matthew Maule in seventeenth century. He was made guilty of witchcraft and was hanged. The penalty was paid by the Pyncheon family. It persuaded them through the decades. The family members of the Pyncheons whose appearance and conduct was similar to colonel Pyncheon die similarly. It seems that the whole family was under a curse. The intensity of the curse has been minimized and dissipated by an affair between Holgrave and Phoebe, the youngest of the Maule and the Pyncheons. It seems that their affair and marriage dilutes the sin. It is very noteworthy to see that the fundamental base of the United States has been established through gunshots, insurrection, violence, revolution, riots and destruction. These realities have always provoked the young writers of America to write deliberately on the socio-political issues. In the writings of Hawthorne it is very noteworthy that he often deviates from ancestral plot. He wants to create something very new and fresh from the old stories and themes. This is one of the reasons that Holgrave says in this present novel that:-
“… a family should be merged into the great obscure mass of humanity, and forget all about its ancestors. Human blood, in order to keep its freshness, should run in hidden streams.”₁
Thus it is very clear that the personal experience of this character deviates from the ideology of family tree. This freshness and new settings brings Hawthorne in the race of innovative writers of America. His romances have many things to disclose. To understand this we must know that Hawthorne has made a transparent wall between novel and romance. It becomes very clear from the famous preface to the novel The House of the Seven Gables :-
“When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man’s experience. The former–while, as a work of art , it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably, so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart–has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer’s own choosing or creation.”₂
It is very interesting to note that Hawthorne has very early recognized that the role of a writer is like a catalyst. T.S.Eliot has theorized it later as ‘impersonality theory’. Eliot has tried to explain that the perfection in art can only come when the artist feels detached from the art. In one of his essays ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’ Eliot again emphasizes on a fact that an artist is like a catalyst who remains unchanged and feels personal detachment from art. This is the artistic genius of Hawthorne who realized very soon that the artistic detachment and distance is very important. It plays a very crucial role in romance. By writing romance the author thus takes the liberty of presenting issues which are controversial in the society. Several writers have said that in the writings of Hawthorne there are some autobiographical references. Austin Warren says that in the fall of Pyncheons there was the fall of Hawthorne’s. Tracing the facts from the Salem ancestors of Hawthorne we will notice that John Hathorne and his father William Hathorne were very harsh towards the Quakers. One of the fellow judges of John Hathorne had sentenced Thomas Maule, a Quaker to imprisonment in the year 1695. Three years earlier than this incident, there was an active role played by Judge Hawthorne in Salem witch trials. It is supposed traditionally that he might have been cursed by some victims. There is a big confusion that if there are some autobiographical references present in the novels of Hawthorne then how he can put himself or his personality detached from the plot of those novels. It is true that there is some essence of impersonality theory present in Hawthorne but we can also not deny that his stories have some autobiographical references. It can be seen in almost all the works of Hawthorne. It is a genuine question but readers are surprised to find that Hawthorne has not personalized the situation but he has generalized the problems of the society. Thus even the personal elements have been generalized by the author. During that period many problems faced by the people were common and Hawthorne has raised several social issues in almost all of his writings. Between this generalization and personalization there lies some duality which often brings horror. This horror has been felt by the author in his sub conscious mind and readers are surprised in seeing this change in Hawthorne. This horror image can be seen in “Endicott and the Red Cross”. It has been presented as:
“But among the crowd were several whose punishment would be life-long; some, whose ears had been cropped,like those of puppy –dogs; others, whose chicks had been branded with the initials of their misdemeanors; one, with his nostrils slit and seared.”₃
It is the horror which comes through violence and this kind of horror is very general which has been adopted by most of the writers including Hawthorne. The typicality of Hawthorne can be felt by the horror associated with religion. The concept of sin associated with the sinners provokes horror. This horror can be felt by the sinners in form of sleeplessness, nightmares, hallucinations, acute madness and several others. Hawthorne himself felt guilty because of his forefather’s violent act. It is very noteworthy that Hawthorne added ‘w’ to his name after his degree of graduation. This was an act performed to show some differences from his ancestors. He remembered one such persecution of Ann Coleman who had been put on trial under William Hathorne:
“Naked from the waist upward, and bound to the tail of a cart, she is dragged through the main-street at the pace of a brisk wall, while the constable follows with a whip of knotted cords. A strong –armed fellow is that constable; and each time he flourishes his lash in the air, you see a frown wrinkling and twisting his brow, and, at the same instant, a smile upon his lips. He loves his business, faithful officer that he is, and puts his soul into every stroke, zealous to fulfill the injunction of Major warrant…”₄
Hawthorne was very conscious that a writer cannot deny or move away from the history of the culture he is writing about. The New Found Land had this history and it must encompass his writings. In the very introductory part of The Scarlet Letter and Hawthorne writes about one of his ancestors John Hathorne:
“[He] made himself so conspicuous in the martyrdom of the witches, that their blood may fairly be said to have left a stain upon him. .. . I know not whether these ancestors of mine bethought themselves to repent, and ask pardon of Heaven for their cruelties; or whether they are now groaning under the heavy consequences of them, in another state of being. At all events, I, the present writer, as their representative, hereby take shame upon myself for their sakes, and pray that any curse incurred by them—as I have heard, and as the dreary and unprosperous condition of the race, for many a long year back, would argue to exist—may be now and henceforth removed.”5
John was also a judge and during 1692 trials he with some another judge had arrested John English and his wife labeling them as practitioners of black magic and witch craft. It created tension between the two families and the tension was finally patched later after many years by a marriage between the granddaughter of John English and grandson of judge Hathorne. One of the very famous houses of Salem, The English House might have served as a model house for The House of The Seven Gablespassed to a Hathorne. It was empty and decaying so in 1833 it was finally pulled down. Several other elements of this novel lie very close to the heritage of Hawthorne. The claim of Pyncheon in Waldo County runs parallel to one of the legendry family story of the author. Ebenezer Hathorne one of the great uncles of the novelist had several theories in his mind. Ebenezer believes that:
“Nobody ought to possess wealth longer than his own lifetime, and that it should return to the people.”6
The author himself is very skeptical about radical proposals but at the same time he was very much interested in them. These views are very great and it marks the real motive of the author himself that the thinking of the society should not be limited. The orthodox and limited thinking of the characters and the society brings a great sin to the society. Hawthorne was a kind of writer who was very critical of the society. His characters also are very neatly chosen. The arrant view of the great uncle and the author himself appears in the text also where Holgrave remarks to phoebe Pyncheon:
“Shall we never, never get rid of this Past?… It lies upon the Present like a giant’s dead body! In fact, the case is just as if a young giant were compelled to waste all his strength in carrying about the corpse of the old giant, his grandfather, who died a long while ago, and only needs to be decently buried.. .”7
The character Phoebe represents cheerfulness, purity and beauty. She has all the characteristic features of feminine charms. It seems that Hawthorne has pictured Sophia Peabody, his own bride, while drawing this character. The present novel The House of The Seven Gables is an album of conceptions and images which is very significant for the author. Several critics have found this novel parallel to The Scarlet Letter as both of these novels is in episodic form and both of them have some similarities. Each of the character is very special and important. They play a very crucial role in the plot construction. Apart from the railroad excursion of Hepzibah and Clifford the whole action of the novel has a central setting. Colonel Pyncheon built The House of The Seven Gables on the land of the Maules. The setting of this novel is middle of the nineteenth century. The author has used the flash back technique to peep inside the history of the house which was built in the seventeenth century. The house is gloomy and haunted because of its disputed construction. Hepzibah Pyncheon is the current resident of the house. She is poor and she supports her brother Clifford who has completed thirty years in jail. He has been sentenced because of a murder. She has a cousin who is wealthy but unpleasant. She has refused all the assistance from this wealthy cousin judge Jaffrey Pyncheon. A pretty and lively young and beautiful Phoebe who is a distant relative arrives there. A romantic affair grows between Holgrave, the mysterious attic lodger and Phoebe. Holgrave the mysterious attic lodger is busy in writing the history of the Pyncheons. It has been mentioned earlier that the house has been built wrongfully by Colonel Pyncheon from a rightful owner Matthew Maule. The rightful owner Matthew Maule had been executed for practicing Witchcraft. It seems that at the time of his death Maule might have cursed the Pyncheon family. At the time of housewarming festivities colonel Pyncheon was found lying dead in his armchair. It is not clear that whether he died from some congenital disease or from the curse of Maule. The house bears his portrait as a symbol of a dark history. The plot of the novel further advances when Phoebe decides to visit her country home. She has a planning to return early. Clifford is disappointed and frustrated because of the unused and lost youth which he has spent in prison. He feels isolated from the society. He stands above the stairs at a large window which is arched. He has a strong sudden desire to jump from the window. There is a sense of realism associated with the novel because there was an actual existence of the Pyncheon family. Apart from these facts we cannot deny that there is a sense of moral justice in almost all the novels written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. There is a strong theme of sin running in this novel. Sin is like a genetic disorder which has its effect even on the next generation. That is to say, sin committed by a generation can be visited and repented by the next generation. Repentance of the next generation does not normally occur but it has a chance to nullify the sin committed in the previous generation. It is not a theory but it is actually a belief which Hawthorne has carried out in this novel. This theme is actually the moral behind The House of The Seven Gables .Hawthorne has tried to link the misdeeds performed by colonel Pyncheon with the sufferings of other members of Pyncheon family. The portrait of the colonel looms with the action of the story. Death of the family members of Pyncheons clearly hints over the curse of Matthew Maule. Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon as well as the old Jaffrey Pyncheon his uncle both are found dead with blood on their beards and shirts. These deaths are identical to the death of colonel Pyncheon. Hawthorne clearly pictures the idea that a committed sin is indelible and even centuries cannot wash the stains of a sinner. One must has to pay the price of a sin. Hawthorne personally never believed on curses even this novel cannot suggest that simply a curse can punish the whole family. It can also be seen as a reaction of their own action. They were full of lust and their greed has engulfed them. Colonel Pyncheon brings the curse home while trying to snatch a piece of land from the rightful owner. The life of Gervayse Pyncheon was very quiet and peaceful but it takes a tragic turn when he tries to recover a missing land deed. It results in the death of Alice, his daughter and old Jaffrey Pyncheon also dies by his own grief. The demise of the family is an outcome of the greed of the family. In the present novel Hawthorne has also criticized the New England society of the nineteenth century in terms of class structure. The difference between Pyncheons and Maules is an outcome of the class conflict. One is very rich where as the other is very poor. There is a feud between the elite puritan followers of the Church, the army, the law and the poor peasantry of the society of the New England. Matthew Maule represents the poor class of the society. He is a farmer who is sent to the gallows very easily by Colonel Pyncheon who is a wealthy landowner. The interaction between Gervayse Pyncheon and yonger Maule broadens this class distinction. Even heredity and environments fails to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. Hepzibah knows the fact that the personality and status of the judge will succeed in sending Clifford to the asylum. The opening of a shop by Hepzibah is seen like a humorous mockery of the aristocratic class. This division of class has been set according to the division of wealth. For characters like Matthew Maule it is not a mockery that he is a subject of suffering. He is a victim but his situation is actually perceived normal in the society because it is the outcome of the class division. One of the other prominent themes of the novel is the appearances of the characters which are often deceptive. The judge often gives an infectious smile only to mask his original individuality and truth. Even his cruelty is covered under his brilliant smile and this is actually an art of deceptiveness. The Scowl of Hepzibah which is a physical problem keeps the customers away from her store and even Clifford her beloved brother feels repulsed by her. Hawthorne has tried to focus on the physicality of his characters. The physical characteristics of the individuals have been contrasted with their inner personalities. These prominent features have been displayed by the author successfully. By doing this the author tries to say that how easily the appearances of people contribute in passing judgment about them. It demonstrates the views of the author that the physical looks of a character are often misleading. To talk of the motive of Hawthorne designed for this novel we can find a lot of motives. One of the prominent motif is mesmerism. The House of The Seven Gables effectively deals with trances and reveries. It can be best seen in the novel when Phoebe is told a story by Holgrave about the mesmerism of Alice Pyncheon by the younger Matthew Maule. After listening to this story Phoebe also goes into a state of trance. Critics have correlated this mesmerism effect with the smile of Colonel Pyncheon which we have discussed as deceptive. His smile too has a narcotic effect which acts like a magnet and people are drawn against their will. Thus we can say that he has a magnetic personality. His smile is deceptive but fearful and attractive. This motif of mesmerism allows the author to fulfill his objective according to his own choice. He has successfully introduced a fantastic element of mesmerism into his plot. The presence of mesmerism can also be seen in the novel when Hepzibah is found alone in the room by Phoebe hearing different voices murmuring together. This is another science of mesmerism which cannot be explained in words. In the hypnosis of Phoebe by Holgrave it can be felt that if realism is mixed with fiction it can generate an affect of mesmerism which can put the audience in a state of trance. This is magic of fiction where the mind is hypnotized. This novel has several images and symbols to interpret. One of the prominent symbols which have been used successfully by the author is the symbol of decay. Physical decay stands like a mirror where individual and character can see their spiritual decay. One should not be confused between deformities and decay. The suffering of the Pyncheon family can be seen in this regard as they decay both from outside as well as inside. Even the house on which the novel has been modeled has been decayed and corroded. The garden of the house is full of unwanted plants and weeds. It is better to say that the garden of the house is unfit and damaged. The summerhouse has also been crushed and covered with vines. Even the neighborhood of the house has become unappealing and outmoded. The external description of the atmosphere has been depicted as gloomy. It is interesting to see that the external form and appearance of the nature matches with the appearance of the residents of the house. Hawthorne has depicted a sense of realism while depicting his characters. His sense of perception is no doubt perfect. As the house becomes unattractive and unpleasant the residents of the house also look the same. It is perfect blending of characters with their atmosphere and environment. It can be seen in the personality of penniless and scowling Hepzibah. She is a sharp contrast to Alice Pyncheon. Holgrave and Phoebe try to nurture the garden with their extra care. They also care for the summerhouse and with their efforts the chickens of the house begin to return to health. It clearly reflects the healing power of love and care. The author has also tried to present the magic of care and love that decay can be arrested and growth can be implemented even on a barren soil. The House Of The Seven Gables is a symbol of the declining fortunes of the Pyncheon family. The connection between property and family is repudiated by the explanation of Holgrave. He explains that every coming generation should modify the design of the property according to their needs. The old order should be replaced by the new order. It is the rule of nature that old must be replaced by the new. The fleeing of the character Clifford from the scene of the Judge’s death can be seen as his fleeing from the darkness. It can be understood that it was not expected that Clifford can attain his freedom in such a manner. His fleeing is actually his freedom which he has been denied by the society. Of all the symbols present in this novel the most appealing symbol is the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon. He acts like a prime witness who watches generation after generation becoming a prey of greed and high esteemed ambition. The portrait which is rigid represents the rigid and corrupt personality of Colonel Pyncheon. Gervayse Pyncheon’s approval to exchange the house for the help of young Maule in finding the Maine land grant and frowning of the portrait has some connection. The decision of Gervayse Pyncheon is genuine but he thinks that the portrait of colonel Pyncheon frowns and it it is a symbol of his disappointment that it might be a loss of the greedy family. The chickens of the house are more symbolical in nature. They stands for the lost fortune of the family which breeds them. Their poor health shows the poor condition of the family. The decision of Clifford to set those chickens free from their coop shows the importance of freedom. Hawthorne has selected this bird only to show the condition of the Pyncheon family. The author has denigrated them to constantly squawking and fighting birds. Apart from these symbols there are various themes present in the novel. One of the theme is family and affairs of the family. It is the members of the Pyncheon family who has been shown suffering in this novel. These sufferings can be a result of the past deeds of the family. Even in the present time the family members of the Pyncheon family have been shown attracted towards different sins. Fate plays another role in deciding various affairs of the family. Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon is bullying hypocrite, greedy but he is the latest of the Pyncheon tyrants. If the role of genes becomes crucial in deciding the behavior of an individual then it is tough to decide that who is guilty? Tracing the tyrannical genes from Colonel Pyncheon we will find that almost all the family members have this gene common in them. If cruel genes have been inherited by Judge Pyncheon from his forefathers then it is only the role of fate which decides the individuality of a character. Heredity and environment makes the individuality of any character and even the author Hawthorne has tried to present this fact in this novel. Now a question arises that if the members of the Pyncheon family are ill fated then can they exercise their freewill? It is the freewill which makes an individual more responsible towards the society. Looking into the dynamics of free will we will have to understand it first so that we can connect it successfully to the Pyncheon family. It is the ability of an individual to choose between different possible situations. It has a very close association and linking with sin, guilt, praise and responsibility and several other judgments which is selected freely by any individual. In western philosophy there are various questions like do we have a firm control over our actions? If yes, then what is the level of control? Are these things closely associated with free will? One may argue that if the course of action is selective according to the choice of the character then what is the significance of control. What is free in free will? Wikipedia says about freewill:
“Freewill is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action. It is closely linked to the concepts of responsibility, praise, guilt, sin, and other judgments which apply only to actions that are freely chosen. It is also connected with the concepts of advice, persuasion, deliberation, and prohibition. Traditionally, only actions that are freely willed are seen as deserving credit or blame. There are numerous different concerns about threats to the possibility of free will, varying by how exactly it is conceived, which is a matter of some debate.
Some conceive freewill to be the capacity for an agent to make choices in which the outcome has not been determined by past events. Determinism suggests that only one course of events is possible, which is inconsistent with the existence of such free will. This problem has been identified in ancient Greek philosophy, and remains a major focus of philosophical debate. This view that conceives free will to be incompatible with determinism is called incompatibles and encompasses both metaphysical libertarianism and the claim that determinism is false and thus free will is at least possible and hard determinism, the claim that determinism is true and thus free will is not possible. It also encompasses hard incompatibles, which holds not only determinism but also its negation to be incompatible with free will, and thus free will to be impossible whatever the case may be regarding determinism”.8
There is a problem with this argument and the problem lies in the fact that most of the members of the Pyncheon family are no doubt ill fated but at the same time the presence of characters like Alice, Clifford, Hepzibah and Phoebe tells a different story. They fall in the category of good Pyncheons. Now a question arises that what about the genes of good Pyncheons. The answer has been given by several critics that not only heredity but environment too plays a crucial role in shaping the individuality of a person or character. In the case of good Pyncheons environment might have an upper hand to play. It also depends on the way one thinks according to the given situations. It can be termed as situation reaction. It can be linked to justice and judgment which is one of the most important themes of this novel. There is a conflict between real justice and public judgment in this novel. The state institutions of Massachusetts have been criticized by the author where corrupt people gain lots of power. Men like Colonel Pyncheon and Judge Pyncheon rule the society because they have power in their hands. And it is also a fact that nobody cares in the society that they are greedy or bullying. They keep on donating money time to time for the right causes and nobody thinks beyond this that from where they are earning this money? It is only through the characters like Holgrave that the real truth behind their faces is known to the people. These powerful people use religion according to their own needs. The real meaning of religion has hardly any sense for morally corrupt men. Their inner self has been corroded and decayed. They cannot feel anything for the poor. They take delight in tormenting others and it is ironical that justice is their slave. They are Judges but they play with law. Hawthorne has tried to show us a real picture of the society. The undeserving people are the protector of the society. Even in The Scarlet Letter such themes can be found. At the end of this novel we can find that Roger and Dimmesdale both suffer. Although the suffering of Hester Prynne cannot be expressed within few words but she not only evolves but also survives with new hopes. These hopes are an outcome of her pain and sufferings. Through such sufferings she has purified her soul. In Mrs Dalloway the author Virginia Woolf has said that:
“ Through all ages—when the pavement was grass , when it was swamp, through the age of tusk and mammoth, through the age of silent sunrise, the battered woman—for she wore a skirt—with her right hand exposed, her left clutching at her side, stood singing of love—love which has lasted a million years, she sang, love which prevails, and millions of years ago, her lover, who had been dead these centuries, had walked, she crooned , with her in May; but in the course of ages, long as summer days, and flaming, she remembered, with nothing but red asters, he had gone; death’s enormous sickle had swept those tremendous hills, and when at last she laid her hoary and immensely aged head on the earth, now become a mere cinder of ice, she implored the Gods to lay by her side a bunch of purple-heather, there on her high burial place which the last rays of the last sun caressed; for then the pageant of the universe would be over.”9
Virginia Woolf is talking about the new insight gained through the agony caused by love. It acts like a medicine to cure the uncured. In The Scarlet Letter it can be felt by the characters like Hester Prynne. She thinks that she is responsible only for her lover Dimmesdale. Later she gains the insight that somewhere she is also responsible for the downfall of her husband. In the present novel The House of The Seven Gables readers can understand that the downfall of the Pyncheon family is not only because of the curse of the tormented Matthew Maule but also because of their own high esteemed ambition and attraction towards greed. Religion plays a very important role in formulating all these above mentioned ideas. Either it is the case of Dimmesdale, Hester or Pyncheons, religion plays a very important role. Characters like Hester and Dimmesdale understand the true value of religion and that is why they feel more grief inside their heart. They feel tormented but in the case of Pyncheons the story is different. Massachusetts was visited by the Puritans in 1630s. There they wanted to practice the strict form of Protestantism. From there the persecution of other sects who didn’t share such religious views started. There were killings on large scale. Hawthorne has targeted this self-righteousness and intolerance in The House of The Seven Gables. It is very interesting to see that the setting of the novel is not 1690s but it has been set in the background of 1850s, it is one of the reasons that the author has not talked much about the original Puritan oppression but only its effect and legacy has been explored. There is one another idea associated with Puritan belief and that is Calvinistic approach to perceive religion. According to this belief God has already decided the souls to be damned or saved. Thus according to this belief there is no role of free will to play. Only the fate will decide the soul to be damned or saved. Thus the role of fate appeals more to the author. This doctrine of predestination focuses on the fact that whatever the work we perform we are not sure that we are saved or damned eternally. It can only be guessed by seeing the material success of an individual on earth. If somebody possesses more wealth, there is the chance for him that he might be saved whereas there were hardly any chances for the poor. According to this belief the actions performed by Colonel Pyncheon can be justified. However, this belief has been challenged by several authors. Morality and ethics have another role to play in this novel. In the present novel two great crimes has been focused upon. First, is the accusation of Matthew Maule for witchcraft by Colonel Pyncheon and second one is treating Clifford as a murderer by Judge Pyncheon. In both of these cases the victim is innocent. Hawthorne has tried to look into the psychology of Colonel and Judge Pyncheon. Both of them ruin the life of others without feeling any guilt. Through the psychoanalysis of these characters Hawthorne is trying to make a link between guilt and morality in this novel. People who are morally corrupt have no place for guilt even in their subconscious state of mind. Characters like Dimmesdale and Hester in The Scarlet Letter feel tormented because of their guilt. It means that they are not morally corrupt. Some morality is still alive in their hearts. Apart from this morality Hawthorne has also tried to show us some social inequalities associated with gender. Gender is something which is constructed socially. Masculine gender has been shown as exploiting in nature. In almost every work of Hawthorne we will find the heroine struggling to prove her individuality. In The Scarlet Letter the heroine Hester has been shown as beautiful but immoral. Her child Pearl has been projected as the child of nature but like nature she has been projected as uncontrolled. Her uncontrolled passion is something which has been transferred from her mother. Hester is strong enough to resist the society. She is loved by Dimmesdale but the love is secret. In The House of The Seven Gables the character Hepzibah is not beautiful. She has been shown as scowling and even the customers of her shop feels repulsed by her. This gender construction has always been a subject of debate. Several critics have said that Hawthorne was biased while creating his characters but we cannot ignore the role of American society which always looked females as struggling and inactive in comparison to their male counterparts. The author has tried to associate weakness with femininity and strength with masculinity. One of the most important themes present in the novel is the theme of reality versus appearance. There is a world of imagination running parallel to the real world. This imagination leads to frustration as in the case of Clifford. Clifford cannot accept the reality as he is not the real criminal but he has been victimized by the fault of others. The situation can be explained beautifully by the fact that his mind fears the existence of reality of situation. His subconscious state of mind is more powerful whereas his consciousness acts like a threat for his existence. This is one of the reasons that he runs away from the situation. It has been discussed above that in one incident he runs away from reality because he cannot take it for granted once again. This situation can be connected to the question of gender inequality. No doubt Clifford is weak but is it a weakness of his fortune or the weakness of masculinity. It has been left on the readers to decide but it certainly has some ideas associated with gender equality.
Apart from this theme we must look on to the structural pattern of the novel. Several critics have failed to discover any structural pattern. It has been concluded by several scholars that the novel is in episodic form which is tied loosely with a theme of inherited curse. The conversation between different characters reflects the novel as a family tale. According to Herbert Gorman this novel of Hawthorne is:-
“is no more than a series of tales relating to one family….As a novel the book falls to pieces and the reader is confronted with varying ingredients that do not, by any manner of reasoning, form a unified ensemble.”10
The way this novel has been structured successfully foreshadows the curse of several years upon a family. During the time of the narrative, the family of Pyncheons have been represented in two branches- the first one is secluded to the household activities and the other one is wealthy and influential people of the town. The first one has limited wealth and is poor. It is represented through the characters like Hepzibah and her brother Clifford. In this novel the character Phoebe acts like an agent of redemption. She is actually the light of the family. She is a distant cousin of Hepzibah who comes to help the family by her own way. The emergence of Holgrave in the novel shows the emergence of an American towards perfection. He is full of energy and it is interesting that he is one of the descendents of the Maule family. There is a better understanding between Phoebe and Holgrave. There is a sense of comparison between Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor and The House of The Seven Gables. Both of these novels have some similarities in themes and structure. There are family stories, old curses and ill fated outcomes. But in the case of Walter Scott the psychology of the characters is more refined. They reflect clearly the motif of the author. In case of Nathaniel Hawthorne we will find that morality has more role to play and this is one of the reason that in magnitude he fails to predict the psychology of his characters. It seems that some of his characters are victims of circumstances. Walter Scott projects reality of situation whereas Hawthorne projects morality underlying the given situation. His sense of realism is different and he watches the incidents very critically. In most of his novels objects are subjectified whereas subjects are objectified. The aesthetic nature of the author replaces logic and action. There is less action and much analysis. Holgrave and Phoebe both are attractive and both of them are very important characters in the present novel. Holgrave symbolizes reason. His approach towards analyzing different situations of life is rational whereas Phoebe represents innocence and forgiveness. The character judge Pyncheon has been portrayed by the author as unattractive. He has been represented by the author as greedy. The prime focus of the author is to project his characters mechanically. After the sudden death of Judge Pyncheon the rational nature of Holgrave can understand that the death is not simply an outcome of the curse. He theorises that the judge might have died from any stroke or heart attack. Apart from this rational approach the theme of curse has been highlighted and the novel seems more to be a sermon than to be a piece of art. As stated above we can feel that there is a contrast between this novel and The Bride of Lammermoor. Even the stylistic features of both these novels are almost similar. Scott has used a less objective style as compared to Hawthorne. The possibilities with the characters of Hawthorne turn out to be psychological somewhere in the novel. But these possibilities are hardly supported by the plot construction. Hepzibah is a character who is unattractive but loving. She has neither self knowledge nor grace. The narrator keeps on reminding that her brother Clifford is lost within himself. He cannot explore his surroundings like other characters. His losses can never be redeemed. He leads a purposeless life. The love affair of Phoebe and Holgrave has slow movement. It has been talked less by the author. So there are psychological advancements in the mind of different characters but the plot fails to reconstruct these advancements. Thus instead of character development Hawthorne has focused more on descriptions. The novel was written during 1850s when America was struggling for eradicating slavery. The society was very conscious and eager to eradicate immorality as well as slavery from the nation. The moralistic and the static qualities of the author are clearly embedded in this novel. At some points it seems that the novel is an interpretation of history which is very personal. This is also true that the author has given very less freedom to his characters and this one of the reasons that they fail in coming out of the dilemmas. They are surrounded between moral uneasiness and unhappiness. They are waiting for something to happen which is really out of their control. The social context of the family has also been given less space in the novel. The town’s history has not been disclosed properly and this is the reason that the novel turns out to be a tale which is unrealistic but sober. The disclosure that Holgrave is a descendent of Maule makes the novel predictable. It is really mysterious but it lacks entertainment. So it becomes tough to decide that this is a realistic novel or romance.
Apart from these analysis readers are delighted to see that the author has used some interesting allegories in the novel. The house does not appear to be a house but it has been treated like a person. It has a human heart and various mysteries are concealed in this heart. The character Clifford thinks about Hepzibah and himself as ghosts who are doomed to dwell in the accursed house of the seven gables. As far as the orientation of the house is concerned it has also a great significance. It represents two different civilizations. It also represents the unfortunate circumstances initially created by Colonel Pyncheon. The darkness of the house reflects the emblems of the history. Now coming on character analysis we will find that Hawthorne’s characters cannot be studied in isolation. In this novel The House of The Seven Gables there are several characters like Holgrave, Phoebe, Hepzibah, Judge Jaffrey and others. All of them are connected to each other and it is also evident from the novel that these characters are also connected to the central theme of the novel which is of course a curse hovering around several sins. Thus it is clear that although the novel seems to be episodic but there is a great coherence and connectivity between the plot and the characters. There is no any definite protagonist or antagonist but the characters mix according to the given situation and develop their roles and thus help in the advancement of the plot. Clifford and Hepzibah are the kind of the characters who are helpless because they are the main victims of the curse. They are helpless but still they are the most important characters present in the novel as they really construct the plot of the novel. The Judge has been portrayed as the agent of the devil whereas Phoebe represents the good angel. Less action is associated with Holgrave. He also analyses different problems of the family. It seems that almost all the characters are incomplete as the task performed by them is also incomplete. One may argue that the task performed by the characters is incomplete because they are waiting for something to happen supernaturally. But the fact is this that the sin or the house has not been gifted supernaturally. It has been earned manually either by committing a crime or by force. So how can the solution come from supernatural power? It is a question of free will. Man is at the centre of the earth and he is fully responsible for the modifications done in the environment. This is one of the reasons that the naturalists like Emile Zola and others have focused more on heredity and environment. According to Wikipedia:-
“Naturalism is a literary movement that emphasizes observation and the scientific method in the fictional portrayal of reality. Novelists writing in the naturalist mode include Émile Zola (its founder), Thomas Hardy, Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane, and Frank Norris.
Naturalism began as a branch of literary realism, and realism had favored fact, logic, and impersonality over the imaginative, symbolic, and supernatural….The novel would be an experiment where the author could discover and analyze the forces, or scientific laws, that influenced behavior, and these included emotion, heredity, and environment.
Other characteristics of literary naturalism include: detachment, in which the author maintains an impersonal tone and disinterested point of view; determinism, the opposite of free will, in which a character’s fate has been decided, even predetermined, by impersonal forces of nature beyond human control; and a sense that the universe itself is indifferent.”11
Applying this theory of heredity and environment on the present novel of Hawthorne, we will find that the characters communicate with their respective environment. Their behavior is not controlled through the curse but it is decided by the way they actually think. Let us take the example of Clifford. He is the brother of Hepzibah and he is a kind of person who was sentenced to jail for a crime which he has not done. We do not have any evidence to prove him a criminal. Now he has come to live with his sister. His life is not normal. His actual way of thinking is based on the society and environment which he got. He is frustrated because he paid the penalty for such a crime which was not done by him. It can happen with any normal person. It is universal and it is certainly connected with the questions like free will of a man. What about the freewill of those people who are innocent but declared criminals? There develops a sense of detachment and it further leads to frustration and emotional failure. Phoebe is a kind of character who has been used as a contrast to Hepzibah. She has been described as unconventional and fresh. It is noteworthy to see that Phoebe is attractive whereas Hepzibah is unattractive. It is scientific that the skin color depends upon the genes and it might be possible that in case of Hepzibah the faulty genes of the Pyncheons are responsible for her physical appearance. It is also applied to Phoebe but again it might be possible that the noble genes of the Pyncheons are responsible to make her attractive. It is a matter of misfortune and fortune. Thus it is the great mastery of Hawthorne that during his complete lifetime he has written some of the greatest works of American literature. He has won the admiration of his great contemporaries like Poe and Longfellow. He has influenced many young writers of America including the great Henry James. This Romance or novel, as the author has called it concerns itself with the notions of guilt and sin. In this novel the readers can also find a great distance between truth and appearances. Hawthorne has remarked that:-
“it is a truth (and it would be a very sad one but for the higher hopes which it suggests ) that no great mistake, whether acted or endured, in our mortal sphere, is ever really set right .time, the continual vicissitude of circumstances, and the invariable inopportunity of death render it impossible. If, after long lapse of years, the right seems to be in our power, we find no niche to set it in. the better remedy is for the sufferer to pass on, and leave what he once thought his irreparable ruin far behind him.”12
It was an answer for the question that whether any of the family members will ever be free of the curse? It means that the curse is very powerful. It really proves to be an extended version of the sermon. This brooding imagination of the author has contributed a lot in making this novel somewhat romantic.
The current novel is also a short commentary on the history of nation building. These beliefs like curses were really present in the society and people always took it seriously. It is not simply a novel or a work of fiction but it really serves to be as the essential component of America. The most interesting craftsmanship of the author lies in his successful attempt to yoke the nineteenth and seventeenth century America and correlate the effects of the later on former. The other settings like the cultural aspects of this work of Hawthorne tell us the entire historical gamut, literary and social timelines of American literature from the very starting period of colonial expansion to the period of Renaissance. When the author has started writing this novel there were revolutions going over in Austria, Italy and France. This spirit of revolution is certainly related to slavery. It is very interesting to see that this quintessential writer of the American literature has written almost on every sociopolitical and religious aspects of America but there is a sense of detachment in the matter of slavery. The discomforting silence in accordance to racism and slavery is deeply rooted in the political background of the nation. Although there is nothing related to slavery in this current novel but there are certainly some instances of slavery in The Scarlet Letter. Now coming back on the character analysis this novel The House of The Seven Gables presents a variety of characters. Throughout the novel the character of Clifford is very interesting. He is difficult to understand but not complex. We have talked about naturalism earlier and in that context we need to focus on some more facts. Once he possessed a beautiful mind but the life span of thirty years in prison has made his mind slow. Time has corroded his mind. It can be felt from the following lines:-
“This being, made only for happiness, and heretofore so miserably failing to be happy . . . this poor, forlorn voyager from the Islands of the Blest, in a frail bark, on a tempestuous sea, had been flung, by the last mountain-wave of his shipwreck, into a quiet harbor. There, as he lay more than half-lifeless on the strand, the fragrance of an earthly rosebud had come to his nostrils, and, as odors will, had summoned up reminiscences or visions of all the living and breathing beauty, amid which he should have had his home.”13
The word ‘half-lifeless’ clearly reflects the terrible sufferings and it also denotes that there is a less chance for such individuals to come back in life. It is very difficult to come back as the situation becomes very complex. Thirty years is not a short span of time. It is a time where one builds his career and makes life. There is no one to love him except his sister. He feels relaxed in watching Phoebe but when she goes for a while his eyes starts searching her. He has seen very less happiness in his life. His own relative has become his enemy. The tone also suggests that Clifford has some extraordinary power. He cannot give up so easily. There are chances that he will recover and come back in life. Whereas, when we look into the characteristic features of the Judge we will find the Judge as charming. He is self assuring outwardly but from inside his heart he is rotten. He has not acquired this nature but it is innate. It becomes clear from the following lines taken from chapter fifteen of the novel. The narrator has tried to disclose the inner self of the character. Let us have a glimpse:-
“an individual of this class builds up, as it were, a tall and stately edifice, which, in the view of other people, and ultimately in his own view, is no other than the man’s character, or the man himself. Behold, therefore, a palace!… [I]n some low and obscure nook . . . may lie a corpse, half-decayed, and still decaying, and diffusing its death-scent all through the palace! The inhabitant will not be conscious of it; for it has long been his daily breath! . . . Here, then, we are to seek the true emblem of the man’s character, and of the deed that gives whatever reality it possesses, to his life.”14
The author has no intention to understate the charismatic personality of the judge. He symbolically stands like a palace which is rotting and decaying with the elapse of time. It is hidden and even the judge himself cannot identify it. This portrayal is gothic as well as gloomy. It further enhances the gothic elements of the novel. It also establishes a theme which becomes the central theme of the novel. It is an idea that the errors and flaws of the past generation are repeated in the current generation. It is not applicable only on this novel but it has a universal appeal. It is related to the moral instincts of the characters. In the whole of American literary canon Nathaniel Hawthorne stands for the moral ambiguity.
From feminism to postcolonialism or different political perspectives Hawthorne is a subject of critical analysis and debate. He represents those of writers who have a personal belief that there can be no existence in present if we deny our past. It is applicable in case of nationalism also. Every country has some past records and beliefs. His literary selections and writings reflect the American history starting from temperance, vegetarianism, mesmerism, spiritualism, associationism, transcendentalism, millennialism, Puritanism and abolitionism. Henry James in one of his books Hawthorne has eulogized this author in his own words. He was greatly influenced by this man. He has compared his artistic form as a flower which is rare. His art is not common but it takes centuries to create such an artist. He says that :-
“ …the flower of art blooms only where the soil is deep, that it takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature, that it needs a complex social machinery to set a writer in motion. American civilization has hitherto had other things to do than to produce flowers, and before giving birth to writers it has wisely occupied itself with providing something for them to write about. Three or four beautiful talents of trans-Atlantic growth are the sum of what the world usually recognizes, and in this modest nosegay the genius of Hawthorne is admitted to have the rarest and sweetest fragrance.”15
This novel clearly serves and stands on the beliefs of the author and in spite of several flaws the readers are really amused in finding the underlying message of the author. Several themes, images and symbolism are present in this novel and are discussed in detail. Thus the current novel The House of The Seven Gables is a fine blend of human values and moralities and the readers as well as different critics can find this work of Hawthorne very interesting.
- Hawthorne,Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables: A Romance, Routledge and co.1852,p.185.
- Hawthorne,Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables. Mobile Reference,2008,p.1.
- Hawthorne,Nathaniel. Hawthorne’s short stories. Random House LLC,2011,p.168.
- Hawthorne,Nathaniel. The snow-image and other Twice-Told Tales. New York: Hougton Mifflin Company, 1851.p.87.
6. Hoeltje, p. 348; Hoffman, p. 201, quoting passages from The AmericanNotebooks, ed. Randall Stewart (New Haven, 1932), p. 27.
7. Hawthorne,Nathaniel. The House of The Seven Gables. New York: Dover Publications, INC.,1999.p.126.
9. Woolf,Virginia.Mrs Dalloway. Interactive Media, 2012,p.64.
10.Herbert Gorman, Hawthorne :A Study In Solitude(New York, 1927) pp. 95-96.
12.Hawthorne,Nathaniel. The House of The Seven Gables. New York: Dover Publications, INC.,1999.p.220.
15. James,Henry. The Art of Criticism: Henry James on the Theory and Practice of Fiction.U.S.A: University of Chicago, 1986,p.102.