The House of Seven Gables: Symbolism


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