Hepzibah and Phoebe: Vanishing Aristocrat, Emerging American

May 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

Ostensibly a tale of the effects of sin and guilt as manifested through successive generations of a New England family, Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables is a richly detailed novel with multiple levels of meaning and ambiguities that have prompted a wide array of critical interpretations. Though frequently faulted for its narrative structure or other perceived flaws, The House of the Seven Gables is generally ranked second in importance only to The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne considered it his greatest work‹”more characteristic” of his mind and “more proper and natural” for him to write than his first novel. Overall, it was a critical success with three themes seeming to attract most of the critic’s attention of his century. The three topics were Hawthorne’s authentic characters, the powerful setting, and the invigorating yet unsettling theme.Hawthorne analyzes the delicate traits of human sentiment and character, and opens vistas into that beautiful and unexplored world of love and thought that exists in every human being, though overshadowed by material circumstances. Hawthorne takes evident delight in expanding on types of characters and general traits of life or in bringing into strong relief the more evident facts of consciousness. Henry Tuckerman wrote, “No contrast can be imagined of this kind, more eloquent to a sympathetic mind than that between the inward consciousness and external appearance of Clifford, or Phoebe and Holgrave, or the Judge. They respectively symbolize the poles of human existence, and are fine studies for the psychologist. Yet, this attraction is subservient to fidelity to local characteristics. Clifford represents the man of fine organization and true sentiment environed by the material realities of New England; Phoebe is the ideal of genuine, efficient yet loving female character in the same latitude; and Holgrave embodies Yankee acuteness and hardihood redeemed by integrity and enthusiasm”(520). Tuckerman’s passage describes the local authenticity that Hawthorne uses to breathe life into his characters. One of the most important characters of the book is Hepzibah, who, at the opening of the book, is the sole possessor of the dark recesses of the mansion. Rudolph Von Abele gives us a detailed look at her when he writes, “[Hepzibah] is the embodiment of aristocratic gentility, sustained only by her delusion of family inheritance. Hawthorne knew how fully her predicament corresponded to the movement of the age, since ‘in this republican country, amid the fluctuating waves of our social life, somebody is always at the drowning-point'”(316). Abele shows how Hawthorne uses Hepzibah to contrast the other characters through her failing aristocratic beliefs. Hawthorne will use the same detailed descriptions to build his stage on which his characters may roam. The setting becomes as important as the characters themselves.The setting of The House of the Seven Gables is imbued with local authenticity, which is not, for an instant, impaired by the imaginative charm of Romance. We seem to breathe the air as we read, and be surrounded by familiar objects of a New England town. Austin Warren concludes, “The interior of the house, each article described within it‹from the quaint table to the miniature by Malbone,–every product of the old garden, the street-scenes that beguile the eyes of poor Clifford, as he looks out of the arched windows‹all have the significance that belongs to reality when seized upon by art. In these details we have truth and simplicity”(84). This passage describes the beauty of the setting, but H.P. Lovecraft observes a different truth. He wrote, “The overshadowing malevolence of the ancient house‹almost as alive as the Poe’s House of Usher, though in subtler ways‹pervades the tale as a recurrent motif pervades an operatic tragedy”(65). Both critics seem to view the setting from different sides, but both agree that the setting is perfect for Hawthorne’s theme.The main theme that Hawthorne evolved from The House of the Seven Gables corresponds to Hawthorne’s view as seen in his preface, a view from which the forces of his country had just begun to strain under the prosperity caused by the opening of California. Hawthorne pens, “The folly of tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an unfortunate posterity, thereby to maim and crush them, until the accumulated mass shall be scattered abroad in its original atoms”(viii). Hawthorne understood, through the past of his own family, that greed and power corrupted, and that this corruption sometimes hung like a shroud over future generations. F.O. Matthiessen discusses this theme by writing, “What Hawthorne set himself to analyze is this ‘energy of disease,’ this lust of wealth that held the dominating Pyncheons in its inflexible grasp. After the original victory, their drive of power had long since shifted its ground, but had retained its form of oppressing the poor”(322). Lawrence Sargent Hall agrees with Matthiessen by observing, “The theme of Romance has to do with inherited sin, the sins of aristocratic pretensions against a moral order, which in the judgment of an equalitarian like Hawthorne, calls for a truer and higher evaluation of man”(201). Hawthorne uses The House of the Seven Gables to exercise the demons of his own past, while suggesting the social complexity of the American family.It is easy to see why Hawthorne deemed this his most enlightened story. Hawthorne brings to life his characters and setting, while keeping theme tightly focused. This is the reason the critic’s praise it for what it is, a brilliant, well thought out novel that embodies its age.Work CitedAbele, Rudolph Von. “The Death of an Artist: A Study Of Hawthorne’s Disintegration” Martinus Nijhoff Press 1955Hall, Lawrence Sargent. “Hawthorne: Critic of Society” Peter Smith Press 1944Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Blithedale Romance” The Modern Library Paperback 2001Lovecraft, H.P. “Supernatural Horrors in Literature” Ben Abramson Press 1945Matthiessen, F.O. “A Dark Necessity: Hawthorne’s Politics” Oxford University Press 1941Tuckerman, Henry. “Nathaniel Hawthorne” Littell”s Living Age, Vol. LXXXI, NO. 1045 1864Warren, Austin. “Nathaniel Hawthorne: Rage for Order” The University of Michigan Press 1959Whipple, Edwin Percy. “The House of the Seven Gables” Graham’s Magazine 1851

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