The House of the Seven Gables

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Clifford goes to bed early like a child, leaving Phoebe to do as she likes for the evening. She often goes for walks, or shopping, or to a lecture. Still, Phoebe grows a bit quieter in the atmosphere of the House, and her eyes grow darker and deeper.
The atmosphere of the House is taking a toll on Phoebe, even though she remains innocent and pure. It cannot restore the light she pours into the House and its people.
Themes
Horror and Innocence Theme Icon
Phoebe’s only youthful companion is the daguerreotypist, Holgrave. They don’t have much in common, and under other circumstances, they might not have been much interested in each other. Phoebe begins to learn something of Holgrave’s history. He is poorly educated and became independent at a young age; now, at only 22, he has worked as a schoolteacher, salesman, editor, and dentist, and he has traveled abroad. He also claims to be a skilled Mesmerist, which he demonstrates by putting one of the chickens to sleep.
Mesmerism, also known as “animal magnetism,” was  a practice of hypnosis that became popular in the late 18th century and persisted into the 19th. Though plenty dismissed it as quackery (as Hawthorne did), others embraced it as a tool of healing. It’s not yet clear whether Hawthorne uses it as an innocent tool or a manipulative one.
Themes
Time, Change, and Progress Theme Icon
Being a daguerreotypist, too, is unlikely to be a permanent phase in Holgrave’s life, eventually to be cast aside. Phoebe instinctively trusts Holgrave because of his sense of confidence regarding his inner being, yet she’s also unsettled by his “lack of reverence for what was fixed” in the world around him.
Phoebe has traditional expectations about the world around her and finds Holgrave’s irreverence—for instance, his unconcern about choosing a stable career path—unsettling.
Themes
Time, Change, and Progress Theme Icon
Holgrave also strikes Phoebe as cool and detached—well-meaning, yet without deep affection. Because of this, she can’t figure out why Holgrave is interested in her and the rest of the Pyncheon household. Holgrave often inquires about Clifford’s wellbeing, explaining to Phoebe that Clifford doesn’t mean anything to him personally, but that it is such a bewildering world, and that people are riddles to mere observers like himself.
Phoebe pours her heart into the people around her, so it’s difficult for her to understand Holgrave’s more clinical, journalistic interests in the affairs of the Pyncheons.
Themes
Horror and Innocence Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Progress Theme Icon
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Holgrave is a fairly optimistic person. A young man, he looks upon the world, too, as young and changeable, capable of being transformed into everything it ought to be. He believes that society is on the cusp of a golden age. The narrator expresses hope that Holgrave’s optimism will remain pure and settled in his character, so that when age and experience inevitably erode his faith in progress, he won’t undergo a radical shift in character.
Holgrave has a firm belief in progress; he sees the world as a reflection of his own youth and optimism. The narrator suggests that such an outlook doesn’t typically survive with age and experience.
Themes
Time, Change, and Progress Theme Icon
Related Quotes
One particular afternoon, Holgrave sits with Phoebe in the garden. Holgrave, despite his characteristic detachment, has warmed to Phoebe, and today he talks enthusiastically of his hopes and dreams. When Phoebe asks Holgrave why he began boarding with the Pyncheons, he begins discoursing about “the Past.” People today, he argues, are far too dependent on the ideas and patterns of generations dead and gone. He even suggests that it would be better if houses, public buildings, and churches weren’t built out of brick or stone—then, their crumbling would prompt each generation to reform the institutions contained therein.
Holgrave sees houses as symbols of people’s irrational attachment to the things of the past—the past being the enemy of progress. If people weren’t so attached to edifices, he believes, they would be more critical of their ideals and more open to reform and progress. For him, the Pyncheons and the House of the Seven Gables are a case study for this theory.
Themes
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Holgrave points out that the atmosphere in the House of the Seven Gables isn’t wholesome, either. Annoyed, Phoebe asks why he chooses to live there. He explains that he is its student—if the house symbolizes “that odious and abominable Past,” then he will study its ways so as to “know the better how to hate it.”
Holgrave is forthright about his loathing for what the House of the Seven Gables represents to him, whereas for Phoebe, it is simply the home of those she loves.
Themes
Time, Change, and Progress Theme Icon
Phoebe is surprised that Holgrave believes the story of Maule’s curse on her Pyncheon ancestor. Holgrave believes the story is factual, not superstitious, and that it’s an example of a theory. The House, he claims, symbolizes Colonel Pyncheon’s “inordinate desire to plant […] a family.” Holgrave believes that such a desire is the root of most human wrong. Instead, he says, in every century, families should merge with the mass of humanity, disregarding ancestry.
Holgrave elaborates on his feelings about the House of the Seven Gables with reference to its history. He believes that the House is a symbol of the Pyncheon family’s foundational sin, as it were: their greed. This greed is a common human failing. He believes that family dynasties are the root of many problems and should be allowed to die off.
Themes
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Wealth, Power, and Status Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Progress Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Holgrave adds that Colonel Pyncheon appears to have “perpetuated himself” in the subject of Holgrave’s daguerreotype, Judge Pyncheon. Phoebe is startled by Holgrave’s passion. He admits that the topic has seized him “with the strangest tenacity of clutch” since moving into the House. To cope with that, he has written an episode from Pyncheon history into a fictionalized form, which he hopes to publish in a magazine. With Phoebe’s permission, he begins to read it aloud.
Holgrave believes that the daguerreotype image of Judge Pyncheon captures the family’s sin of greed in a raw form—the Judge’s shocking resemblance to the Colonel shows the 200-year-old effort to perpetuate the Pyncheons in action. It also captures the Pyncheons’ worst traits, like coldness of character.
Themes
Wrongdoing, Guilt, and Retribution Theme Icon