Phoebe decides that it would be beneficial for Clifford to have some variation in his routine, so they sit together at a large, arched window on the second floor, overlooking the street. Clifford remains mostly obscured by a curtain while watching passersby. Things like omnibuses and trains seem strange to him, but he loves seeing the antiquated merchants’ carts jingling down Pyncheon Street.
Though Clifford cannot fully rejoin society, Phoebe tries to help him regain a connection to it, if only as a spectator. The changes in technology over the past 30 years are apparent, giving a sense that progress is constant and unstoppable, heedless of individual human lives.
One day, an Italian boy with a barrel organ stops underneath the Pyncheon Elm and begins playing melodies. A monkey sits on his shoulder and, when the boy stops playing, jumps down to beg for coins from passersby. Clifford enjoys the performance but cries at the sight of the monkey, seeing a kind of symbolic ugliness in its greed.
Greed strikes Clifford as the ugliest of values, something that comes through more visibly in the monkey’s begging than in the shrewdness with which humans often conceal such behavior.
Another day, a political parade passes by, and Clifford is so emotionally overwhelmed by the display that he puts his foot on the windowsill, as if to step outside. Phoebe and Hepzibah, terrified, hold him back. Even Clifford is unsure whether he was moved by some strange fear or by the desire to join the crowd. He seems to need a shock of some sort.
Clifford longs to rejoin society more fully and seems to sense that it has passed him by, rather like a parade. Despite Phoebe’s and Hepzibah’s best efforts, he feels as if he is helplessly stuck in time.
One Sunday morning, Clifford is moved by the sunshine, the sound of the church bells tolling across the city, and the sight of Phoebe walking off to church with a wave and a warm smile. He tells Hepzibah that if he were to go to church, he feels as if he could pray once again, surrounded by so many other souls. Seeing the look on his face, Hepzibah decides that they should go to church together, even though she herself has not gone for many years.
Clifford’s longing to rejoin society manifests in his sudden desire to attend church again. At this time (the mid-19th century), church membership was a more prominent aspect of one’s membership in civil society—whether out of sincerity (as for Phoebe) or out of the hypocrisy that Hawthorne often criticizes (like Judge Pyncheon).
Hepzibah and Clifford dress in their faded, moldy churchgoing clothes and head out the door. As soon as they cross the threshold, the warmth of the day seems to vanish, and they both feel exposed before the world. Clifford sadly observes that they are like ghosts who do not belong among other human beings; they do not have the right to go anywhere except for this cursed old house. They retreat back into the gloomy house.
Hepzibah and Clifford’s decrepit clothing symbolizes their long estrangement from broader society; they realize this as soon as they venture out of the house. They belong to the House of the Seven Gables and nowhere else.
Clifford is not constantly gloomy, however. In some ways, he is like a child, not having to worry about the future or providing for his own needs. He dreams often of his boyhood and youth and somewhat lingers in these dreams throughout his days. Feeling so close to childhood himself, he loves watching children out the window, and one day he is inspired to stand at the window blowing soap-bubbles as he’d once loved doing. Many people stop to watch, including Judge Pyncheon, who happens to be passing by. He sarcastically says, “Aha, Cousin Clifford! […] Still blowing soap bubbles!” Seeing him, Clifford is overcome with dread.