Optism As Potrayed in House of Seven Gables
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 well and 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 na?vet?, ?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.
Baym, Nina. The Shape of Hawthorne’s Career Cornell University Press 1976, 283
Gilmore, Michael T. The Artist and the Marketplace in “The House of Seven Gables” ELH, Vol. 48, No. 1 1981, 172
Gray, Richard. Hawthorne, a Problem: “The House of Seven Gables” Nathaniel Hawthorne: New Critical Essays 1982, 88
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of Seven Gables Bantam Classics 1981, 261
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