The House of the Seven Gables

discuss the theme of class and social structure in the novel. what do you think hawthorne intends in his depiction of hepzibah's and clifford's slow decline and the curse on the pyncheons house? are they related in any way? what about the maules?

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Class Status in New England

Hawthorne satirizes nineteenth-century New England society’s preoccupation with class status in The House of the Seven Gables. His critique of class distinctions becomes most pointed when Hepzibah frets over opening the store and when Holgrave proclaims his revolutionary ideology. The feud between the Maules and the Pyncheons is a class conflict of its own—a modest farming family pitted against elite Puritan followers of the church, the law, and the army. Matthew Maule is a poor farmer sent to the gallows with relative ease by Colonel Pyncheon, a wealthy landowner and, as implied in his name, a onetime army man. The interaction between the younger Matthew Maule and Gervayse Pyncheon makes this class distinction even more evident, for the young Maule first refuses to enter the house of the seven gables from the back, as would befit a member of the working class, and then is disturbed by Alice Pyncheon’s apparent disdain for his workman’s status. Even lineage fails to prevent class discrimination: Hepzibah knows that the Judge’s status makes his threat to send Clifford to an asylum very real. The scenes where Hepzibah sets up shop read like a humorous mockery of the aristocratic class, but in the case of Matthew Maule, and later of Clifford, New England society’s preoccupation with class is clearly shown to be no laughing matter.


The House and the Curse

Before the house stood in its present location on Pyncheon-street in "one of our New England towns," a more humble dwelling stood on the same spot. The street was then, in the early 17th century, known as Maule's Lane, for that humble house was occupied by one Matthew Maule, who was engaged in a dispute over ownership of the land with Colonel Pyncheon. Maule, in fact, designed the new house for Pyncheon. Their dispute over the property ended when Maule was executed on charges of witchcraft-at the Colonel's instigation. Tradition holds that Maule's last words, directed at Pyncheon from the scaffold, were, "God will give him blood to drink!" And, indeed, Pyncheon died a mysterious death not long after he took possession of Maule's Lane and built the House of Seven Gables: he was found inside his study, his face and clothes bloodied. Apparently, Maule's curse had come to fulfillment. Later rumors held that there were finger marks on Pyncheon's throat; or that a man had been seen escaping through the room's window; but the exact cause of his sudden death remained unexplained. (1)

The house of the seven gables is an obvious symbol of the declining Pyncheon fortunes, but it also stands as a more general warning against the dangers of becoming too embedded in the past. Holgrave repudiates the connection of family and property when he explains that true political freedom lies in the ability of each successive generation to tear down the old structures and replace them with its own. When Clifford flees the scene of the Judge’s death and gets his first taste of freedom on the train, he validates this viewpoint by characterizing the house as a dungeon from which he has escaped and touting the railroad as an invention that will bring humanity back to its original nomadic state. Although the novel concludes with its protagonists finding comfort within the walls of the Judge’s country estate, the house of the seven gables lingers as a testament to the incarceration of the human spirit. (Note that the Judge himself is described as a mansion soured by a rotting corpse buried somewhere in its walls.)


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It is widely believed that the curse has a direct affect on the Pyncheon descendants. They've lost their fortune, been sent to prison for crimes they didn't commit, and live in a home that's falling down around them, but they find solace inside its walls. A case of 'the sins of the fathers' if you will, only we're talking descendants far removed here.

Pheobe changes their lives.......... so there's a light at the end of the tunnel due to her youth and exuberance. She helps Hepzibah set up shop and takes care of Clifford (he's little more than a child after returning from prison). Even with the troubles and twists they're presented with, the three make a go of it; they beat the odds, and in the end old wrongs are made right.

Gradesaver has a fantastic study guide for the novel if your looking for details. It is linked below;