Hawthorne’s Symbolism In The House Of Seven Gables

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