The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-6

Chapter Four:

A Day Behind the Counter: A dignified elderly gentleman, large and portly, stops outside the shop. He had a gravity and an appearance of influence and authority. He does not enter the shop, however. This man, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, disturbs Hepzibah, his cousin. The small child who bought gingerbread early that morning instead returns and buys more food. After this incident, Hepzibah retreats to the back parlor and stares at the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon, who greatly resembles Jaffrey. She once again looks at the miniature picture, lamenting that he was persecuted. Hepzibah returns to the shop to find an elderly man known as Uncle Venner to all had entered. He was largely regarded as mentally deficient, and considered as old as the House of the Seven Gables itself. Uncle Venner congratulates Hepzibah for opening her shop, but tells her that Jaffrey should have intervened to help her before she had to enter the workforce. However, she refuses to blame her cousin. Before leaving, Uncle Venner gives her advice, including to put on a bright face for her customers. Uncle Venner asks her when Œhe' will return home, but she does not know what he is talking about. That night, a young girl, Phoebe, comes to the house. She is part of the Pyncheon family that lives in rural New England. Before letting Phoebe in, Hepzibah vows that Phoebe can stay only one night, for if Clifford were to find her here, it would disturb him.


In contrast to his Hepzibah, whose scowl obscures her kindness and frailty, Jaffrey Pyncheon gives an appearance of respectability and kindness that is at odds with his actual personality. He presents himself as a man of considerable influence and authority, honorable and even friendly. He does nothing overtly sinister when he approaches the store, and even smiles at the sight of Hepzibah. Yet Hepzibah feels a strange aversion toward Jaffrey; she associates him with Colonel Pyncheon, even calling him a modern day version of the sinister Colonel. It is Jaffrey Pyncheon whom Hawthorne mentioned in the first chapter detailing the Pyncheon history as the nephew who will inherit the House of the Seven Gables, the character who represents all of those qualities inherent in Colonel Pyncheon, and the two characters share a similar amoral boldness that cannot be hidden. Just as the artist evoked the character's harsh soul in the picture that represents Judge Pyncheon for posterity, Judge Jaffrey appears hostile and dangerous even when he simply passes by Hepzibah's shop.

This chapter foreshadows the later introduction of Clifford Pyncheon, the man convicted of the Pyncheon murder so many years before. Hepzibah dutifully waits for the return of Clifford ­ it is his picture that she often gazes upon ­ and believes that she cannot make decisions about the house without him.

Chapter Five:

May and November: Phoebe Pyncheon slept in a chamber that looked down on the garden of the old house. She quietly awoke and did not recognize where she was. Phoebe possessed the gift of practical arrangement, a kind of natural magic that enables people to bring out the hidden capabilities of things around them. She rearranges her room to make it more pleasant, then emerges to go into the garden. She meets Hepzibah at the head of the stairs, who tells Phoebe that she cannot stay. These words, however, were not inhospitable. Phoebe tells Hepzibah that the two may suit one another better than she supposes. Hepzibah tells Phoebe that it is not her place to say who shall be a guest of the Pyncheon House, for its master is cousin. She shows Phoebe the miniature, and tells her that it is Clifford Pyncheon. Phoebe remarks that she thought that Jaffrey and Hepzibah were the only Pyncheons not dead, and Hepzibah replies that in old houses like this, dead people are apt to come back. When a customer arrives at the shop, Phoebe offers to be the shopkeeper for the day. Phoebe proves a superior shopkeeper. She was not a lady, but she was the example of feminine grace and availability where ladies did not exist. Hepzibah wonders if there is a Pyncheon that Phoebe resembles, but Uncle Venner believes that there never was. Hepzibah gives Phoebe a tour of the house in which she explains about a number of legends (such as that of Colonel Pyncheon), and tells Phoebe about Alice Pyncheon, who had been exceedingly beautiful and accomplished when she lived a century before. Alice met with some mysterious calamity and faded away, but she was now supposed to haunt the House of the Seven Gables by playing on the harpsichord. Phoebe did not know what to make of Mr. Holgrave; she believed that he studied some Black Art in his lonesome chamber.


Phoebe Pyncheon, despite her family legacy, demonstrates none of the aristocratic traits of the Pyncheon clan. She is a natural domestic who brightens the House of the Seven Gables immediately upon her arrival and contains a boundless optimism that draws out even the meek and reserved Hepzibah. Hawthorne presents her as a an ideal, the example of "feminine grace and availability" outside of class distinctions and directly contrasts her with Hepzibah. While Phoebe represents the new Plebeianism, Hepzibah is the exemplar of the old Gentility. She is thus more suited to the life of capitalist commerce that Hepzibah undertakes, and quickly becomes an adept shopkeeper. She represents a purified form of Puritanism, the stern old stuff of an industrious worker "with a gold thread in the web," as contrasted with the iron-fisted arrogance of Puritan Colonel and his descendants. Phoebe demonstrates her determination when she insists that she can help Hepzibah. She is not rude toward Hepzibah, but when she insists that she can help the old woman, she does not shrink from pleading her case. Although the two characters have a great affection for each other and Phoebe is nothing less than polite to Hepzibah, Phoebe remains resolute.

Also, while Hepzibah clings to societal structure, Phoebe has a great affinity with nature. Tending to the garden, she immediately brings life back to the House of the Seven Gables, and Hawthorne makes an extensive comparison between Phoebe and a songbird. She is a novelty among the Pyncheon family. Unlike the numerous Pyncheon descendants who follow established patterns set by their progenitors, Phoebe is a Pyncheon original. Uncle Venner can think of no family member who she resembles. Even Alice Pyncheon is an inadequate comparison. Although Hawthorne describes both Phoebe and Alice as beautiful and accomplished, Alice belongs to the aristocratic tradition that Phoebe eschews and assumes the role of a victim that does not fit the independent Phoebe.

The other character who represents democratic values, Mr. Holgrave, recedes upon the entrance of Phoebe. No longer the exemplar of societal innovation, Mr. Holgrave becomes more sinister during this chapter. Phoebe suspects him of practicing some Black Art, a characteristic that aligns him with the mysterious Maule family so connected with the Pyncheon past, and considers him a lawless person.

Chapter Six:

Maule's Well: After an early tea, Phoebe goes into the garden, which had fallen into decay. There are vegetables which make Phoebe wonder who had planted them, for it was surely not Hepzibah. She looks at the hen-coop, where the only hens remaining are no larger than pigeons and move oddly. Their race had degenerated. Holgrave enters the garden as Phoebe is feeding the hens. He tells Phoebe that he makes pictures out of sunshine, and says that daguerreotypes bring out the secret character of a person that no painting could ever detect. There is no flattery in his art. He shows her a daguerreotype that she thinks is Colonel Pyncheon in modern dress. Phoebe mentions the miniature that Hepzibah showed her, and Holgrave asks Phoebe whether the person in that picture looks capable of committing a great crime. That night, Phoebe finds Hepzibah awake in the parlor. Phoebe hears Hepzibah murmur, a sound that is so vague that it seems to come from pure emotion. Hepzibah asks Phoebe to go to sleep, while she will stay awake to collect her thoughts.


The garden in the House of the Seven Gables serves as an extended metaphor for the Pyncheon family. The rich soil of the garden has fallen into decay, while the antique and hereditary flowers that remain are in no flourishing condition. The flowers are now secondary to the vegetables that may be sold, an imposed system of capitalist necessity. The hens that remain are sickly and odd; when Hawthorne writes that their "race had degenerated, like many a noble race besides," he obviously associates the hens with their owners. Furthermore, these hens contain "the whole antiquity of its progenitors in miniature," just as contemporary Pyncheons replicate the qualities of Colonel Pyncheon.

In his conversation with Phoebe, Holgrave explicitly brings out the author's themes concerning representation. He believes that his daguerreotypes bring out the hidden characteristics of their subjects. Significantly, Phoebe mistakes the daguerreotype of Judge Pyncheon for a picture of the Colonel. The two share an identical physical structure and temperament, foreshadowing events in the novel in which the Judge may attempt to grasp the Pyncheon legacy for which the Colonel had striven. This is complimented by the daguerreotype of Clifford Pyncheon; although Phoebe can find nothing dark and sinister in Hepzibah's miniature of Clifford, Holgrave reminds her that he is a murderer. In accordance with the idea that these portraits reveal hidden qualities in their subjects, the lack of a threatening subtext in Clifford's portrait should call into question whether the convicted murderer is actually a violent criminal, or even a murderer at all.

Hepzibah's sigh demonstrates the great psychological anguish that exists along with a great abundance for love within the character. Hawthorne indicates that the two characteristics coincide with one another. The depression that Hepzibah feels exists largely because of her capacity to care for others. Indications that her beloved Clifford will return to the House of the Seven Gables seem to place the burden that Hepzibah feels on Clifford.