The House of the Seven Gables
Character Analysis: Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon
It has almost become an everyday slogan, in light of present events, that behind everything that seems so perfect there is some horrible mistake, or some terrible sin waiting to come back and rear its ugly head. Nathaniel Hawthorne could not have given any better example of this than the honorable Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon from his novel The House of Seven Gables. Hawthorne illustrates that behind even the most prominent, religious, and social icon, there is always that one regretted mistake that causes everything in one’s life to collapse.In the beginning of his essay, Hawthorne addresses all the notable achievements and attributes of Judge Pyncheon, from his generosity to widows and orphans to his office as president of the Bible Society. Hawthorne portrays the Judge as the epitome of faithfulness, justice, and compassion. The author flaunts Judge Pyncheon’s friendly demeanor through his various charities to society. Hawthorne tells of the Judge’s contribution to horticulture by his development of two, very esteemed, variations of a pear. Judge Pyncheon is revealed as a charismatic public figure who was always eager to greet whomever he came across along the streets; the author even goes as far as to say that his prominent smile “made it a point to gladden the world”. He was never afraid to express his faith; Judge Pyncheon made it a habit to pray at least twice a day and to say grace before every meal. His outward appearance modeled him as the ideal Christian, who looked to be as righteous as any Saint you could find on this earth.Through Hawthorne’s depiction of the faithful Judge Pyncheon, it seems that even at first sight one could realize the brilliance and nobility that seemed to radiate off the prominent Judge. His dress was as distinctive as his character; Hawthorne makes every effort to focus on details when describing his elaborate dress, going to the extent of stating, “the snowy whiteness of his linen, the polish of his boots, his gold-headed-cane, the square roomy fashion of his coat and the fineness of its material.” This statement further illustrates the prestigious life-style that the judge was trying to live out. It even says that when he looked in the mirror that he could even be thinking of himself, “Behold Judge Pyncheon, there.” This statement shows the reader that the Judge is not lacking in his pride department. This act of selfish, almost haughty, pride is almost foreshadowing his inevitable downfall, which validates the scripture that states, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (PROV. 6:18).After the reader goes through Hawthorne’s positive examination of Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, he finally is shown the dark-side of this once-described righteous man. The reader now figures out that this secret dark-side of the Judge is not as hard to comprehend after discovering the many oppressive actions of his relatives and ancestors. Hawthorne’s depicts Judge Pyncheon as a noble, honest, faithful, spiritual, generous, and illustrious gentleman, but then in a metaphorical blink of an eye, Hawthorne slyly, but noticeably, changes his tone towards the Judge. It now appears to the reader that the judge is a deceiving, almost criminal-like human being, who without his notable public deeds, was nothing but the typical Pyncheon at heart. This immediate tone change leaves the reader perplexed and confused on whether to hate the Judge or still admire him. Hawthorne’s perplexing way of developing the character of Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon is one of original and complex structure, which leaves the reader unsure of his true feelings of this multi-faceted character. But to the reader one thing is for sure, Judge Pyncheon should spend less time looking in the mirror and more time looking into his soul and practicing what he preaches.
When Rusty Shutters are Forced Open: Hawthorne’s Cheery Ending
In an attempt to write a more cheerful novel then his brooding Scarlet Letter during a time when optimism was the one quality shared by all, Hawthorne writes, what critics call today, a contrived ending for his House of Seven Gables. When all seems its darkest, when the past curse points its bloody dagger at the new generation, and all hope has failed, Hawthorne steps in to become his own savior, penning wings for his beloved characters so that they may fly into a fairytale ending. Hawthorne becomes his own Deus ex machina, leaving stardust in his own eyes, and the dry taste of disgust in the mouths of his critics. Why though would Hawthorne do this after the critical success of The Scarlet Letter? In a letter to his publisher, James T. Fields, Hawthorne wrote, “[House of Seven Gables] darkens damnably towards the close, but I shall try hard to pour some setting sunshine over it”. This letter shows Hawthorne’s conscious choice to force a happy conclusion onto his story. The critics give three reasons to allow for this forced change, 1) Hawthorne’s conflict as a writer, 2) the call of the marketplace, and 3) a failed tongue and cheek on the author’s part.During the writing of The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne discovered a conflict between the wrier he wanted to be and the writer he had become. The book had spun out of his control”it darkens damnably towards the close”from what Hawthorne had intended. At the beginning of writing House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne wrote in a letter, “I think it a work more characteristic of my mind and more proper and natural for me, than The Scarlet Letter; but for that very reason, it is likely to interest the public”. Here Hawthorne is apparently less concerned with the audience than with fidelity of his own temperament. Nina Baym wrote, “Hawthorne did not like his inability to participate in the hopeful temperament of his day. He wanted to be a writer of happy books. He had struggled, unsuccessfully, to lighten the gloom of The Scarlet Letter. He was sure that his readers would not like so dark a tale. When they liked it, he persisted in his discomfort, asserting that so unrelieved a dark story was not healthy or natural”(172). Baym shows how more than reader response was involved since The Scarlet letter had succeeded. Apparently, some inner censor, rather than a wish to please his audience, directed him to be a writer of happy stories, and judged him lacking when he failed to do so.Many critics disagree with this interpretation of Hawthorne’s cheery ending. They point out that despite the moderate success of The Scarlet Letter, he was still hard pressed financially and knew only too well that his reputation for bleakness was an obstacle to acceptance by a wider audience. Michael T. Gilmore wrote, “Hawthorne evidently overlooked his own warnings about the evils of wealth. The House of the Seven Gables’ happy ending may stem less from authorial oversight than from the requirements of the marketplace. By concluding his book as he did, Hawthorne yielded to the world’s wish that in stories everything should turn out welland would pay him for it”(172). Compelled by the pressures of the literary marketplace to brighten his stories for his readership, Hawthorne had become like the character whom he hated most in House of Seven Gables, Jaffrey Pyncheon. In chapter 18, the angry taunting of Jaffery’s corpse, we, the reader, can detect the self-reproach in Hawthorne’s outburst at the dead Judge for seeking profit and worldly honor. Hawthorne wrote, “Rise up, thou subtle, worldly, selfish, iron-hearted hypocrite, and make thy choice whether [or not] to tear these sins out of thy nature, though they bring the lifeblood with them! Rise up, before it is too late!” (216). Hawthorne begged from his own literary foil, for what he could never do himself.The last reason that most critic seem to think spurred Hawthorne into writing such a abrupt, cheery ending is that is a tongue in cheek homage by the author. In a since it was his way of thumbing his noise at the very marketplace that was calling to him. Hawthorne gave the common person what he wanted, a happy ending, but the happy ending is so unsatisfactory that even the mass audience could not dismiss its mechanical nature. Richard Gray wrote, “The reader of House of Seven Gables is left scratching his head as Old Maid Pyncheon’ and her relatives depart, declaring with mock naïveté, it is all very well; but if we are to take it as the will of providence, why I can’t exactly fathom it.’ The aplomb is evident, the author’s tongue is evidently in his cheek”(88). Here, Gray expresses the frustration that most critics have today about the ending of House of Seven Gables. In the scope of Hawthorne’s writing, it is an enigma. It must be a joke by the author.The supreme joke is that critics will never truly know why Hawthorne changed his method of writing to conclude House of Seven Gables. As time passes, more theories will be devised in order to bring understanding. However, with each new explanation the issue only becomes more muddled. Only one man knew why Hawthorne decided to throw open the rusty shutter and allow sunshine to fill his dreary world, but like Jaffrey, he holds his secret behind bloodless lips.Work CitedBaym, Nina. The Shape of Hawthorne’s Career Cornell University Press 1976, 283Gilmore, Michael T. The Artist and the Marketplace in “The House of Seven Gables” ELH, Vol. 48, No. 1 1981, 172Gray, Richard. Hawthorne, a Problem: “The House of Seven Gables” Nathaniel Hawthorne: New Critical Essays 1982, 88Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of Seven Gables Bantam Classics 1981, 261