The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-18

Chapter Sixteen:

Clifford's Chamber: Hepzibah felt that she, Clifford and Judge Pyncheon were on the brink of adding another disturbing incident to the house. She cannot rid herself of the sense of something unprecedented occurring. She had never adequately estimated how powerful Jaffrey was in intellect and energy of will and had never felt as alone. She goes to Clifford's room, but does not find him there. She calls for help from Jaffrey, telling him that Clifford is not in his room, but then Clifford appears from the parlor. Judge Pyncheon still remains there, slumped over and unresponsive. Clifford points to the dead Judge and says that they can live without such weight anymore, but they must escape the house.


As Hepzibah searches for Clifford on Jaffrey's request, she even realizes the weight of the Pyncheon history upon her. This chapter adds yet another mysterious and tragic death to the House of the Seven Gables. Hawthorne presents Judge Pyncheon's sudden demise as an ambiguous event. All of the apparent evidence points to Clifford as a murderer. Hepzibah finds him in the room alone with the dead body, and he immediately suggests that they escape from the House of the Seven Gables. This fulfills Hawthorne's prophecy earlier in the story: Hawthorne suggested that it would take no less than death to cure Clifford of his sensitivity and solipsism, yet fulfills this with the death of Jaffrey instead of the assumed death of Clifford.

Despite the obvious conclusion that Clifford murdered Jaffrey, Hawthorne leaves great room for the possibility that another situation occurred. Judge Pyncheon's death is a replica of the mysterious death of Colonel Pyncheon, yet another parallel between the two generations. Also, despite his earlier conviction, the frail Clifford seems unlikely as a murderer, particularly in his present state.

Chapter Seventeen:

The Flight of Two Owls: Hepzibah and Clifford began their strange expedition away from the house. They attracted a great deal of notice as they reached the train station, but got on the train unhindered. Hepzibah wonders if this is a dream, but Clifford says that he has never been so awake before. The train was a novelty to the two travelers, for there were so many people in such an enclosed space. Clifford claims that this is life, surrounded by human beings. At home, Hepzibah was guardian, but here Clifford seems to comprehend what belongs to their new position. Clifford chats with the conductor on the train, and says that the railroad is destined to do away with stale ideas of home and fireside, substituting something better. Clifford, talking to an old man, says that men find themselves returning to the ideal of living outside of their defined Œhomes.' He says that the greatest possible stumbling block in the path of human happiness is the idea of a home as heaps of brick and stone. He muses about the House of the Seven Gables, which he envisions as an elderly man of stern countenance. Hepzibah tells him to be quiet, for others will think that he's insane, but he continues his conversation. The old man becomes vexed by Clifford's musings about such things as the telegraph. When the old man concedes that telegraphs may be useful for detecting bank-robbers and murderers, Clifford defends these criminals as possibly enlightened and still having their rights. He posits that there might be a dead man with a blood-stain on his shirt in the house of another man who has fled on a railroad, and asks the old man whether the fleeing man's rights should not be infringed. The train reaches a solitary way-station; Clifford and Hepzibah leave the train at this station, finding themselves in a desolate little town.


The escape from the House of the Seven Gables brings Clifford to life once more, yet even alive he and Hepzibah are largely obsolete. Both travelers find the train a terrifying novelty, but approach this new experience in different manners. Clifford draws energy from the rush of new experience, while Hepzibah approaches their flight tentatively, more aware that they are obsolete. When the two leave the train, they are physically and metaphorically isolated, alone in an empty, abandoned town.

While chatting with other travelers, Clifford indulges in progressive social sentiments to which he is entirely unsuited. He echoes the beliefs of Holgrave, who also promotes the idea of homes and familial legacies as burdens that must be taken down. His picture of the House of the Seven Gables bears a striking resemblance to Judge (or Colonel) Pyncheon; to Clifford, the house represents that aspect of the Pyncheon legacy. However, the ideas that Clifford proposes do not suit him; his musings about the future indicate emotions contrary to those of Holgrave. While Holgrave approaches a changed future as a great thing, for Clifford there is the sense of chaos and confusion, as if he does not truly understand what he is saying. Only when the conversation turns to murder does Clifford take a more realistic approach; he projects his own situation onto the conversation, revealing his fear and desperation over the fate of Judge Pyncheon and his belief that a supposed criminal can still be redeemable.

Chapter Eighteen:

Governor Pyncheon: Judge Pyncheon remains in the House of the Seven Gables, dead but with his eyes open. He continues to hold his watch, which continues to move without him. It was supposed to be a busy day for Jaffrey, and he currently is missing all that he had planned. He was to visit a family physician, whom the Judge would have told that he was experiencing dimness of sight and dizziness. That night, instead of sitting dead in the House of the Seven Gables, Jaffrey Pyncheon was to meet with members of his party and announce his candidacy for governor.


Hawthorne uses this chapter for lightly comic purposes directed at Judge Pyncheon. The chapter details all of the appointments that the Judge is missing, on the account of his untimely death, approaching the situation as if the stern old man were remiss in his duties. It also begins to shed light on the actual cause of Jaffrey's death. The dizziness and vision problems demonstrate a problem with Jaffrey's brain; his death was likely caused by his impending stroke, an explanation that holds true for the earlier death of Colonel Pyncheon. The timing of the stroke was such that it seemingly implicated Clifford. Hawthorne includes the details of Jaffrey's schedule to show the power that he may have attained. If he had not died that evening, Judge Pyncheon may have become governor, a situation that was mercifully averted.