The House of the Seven Gables

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Judge Pyncheon, meanwhile, still sits in the House of the Seven Gables. He hasn’t moved for a long time. He still clutches his pocket watch; perhaps he is in a profound meditation or slumber. But it’s surprising that the Judge would linger here, given the plans he made this morning, as he dreamed of spending the next 15 or more years enjoying his real estate and other invested wealth. Today, he had planned on spending no more than half an hour at the Pyncheon house. But now two hours have passed.
In this chapter, the narrator employs a morbid sense of humor and knowing observations (acting as if the Judge’s death is only a mysterious sleep) in order to describe the effects of the Judge’s untimely demise. He describes the Judge as being a complacent, even entitled man who expected continual good fortune in his life.
Themes
Wrongdoing, Guilt, and Retribution Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Horror and Innocence Theme Icon
After interviewing Clifford, the Judge was to have met with a broker and then attended a real estate auction, at which he’d planned to buy a small portion of the old Pyncheon property, which had belonged to Maule’s garden. After various other errands, Judge Pyncheon was supposed to have met with his political party to give a big donation, and to talk with his physician about some trifling symptoms. But it is too late for all that—in fact, it’s now the dinner hour, when the Judge was supposed to go to a very consequential dinner indeed, a gathering of friends from several districts across the state. They are waiting for him now—the ones who really control the appointment of political leaders no matter what the expressed will of the people. Had the Judge shown up, he would have left having been virtually named Governor Pyncheon of Massachusetts—a lifetime’s ambition.
This detailed accounting of Judge Pyncheon’s plans conveys the typical pattern of his life—the life of a man with unlimited resources, who seldom encountered many obstacles to getting his own way. In fact, Judge Pyncheon gets an unusual amount of help in achieving his goals—he was set to be maneuvered into place as the next governor (a cynical clue to Hawthorne’s view of politics). The aside about the doctor’s visit hints that the Judge had been experiencing health problems, lending ambiguity to his cause of death.
Themes
Wealth, Power, and Status Theme Icon
But twilight is growing in the parlor by now. The only distinct sight is the whiteness of the Judge’s face, the only sound the ticking of his watch. Then, the house begins to creak and groan in the rising wind. Eventually, the city clock chimes midnight. Ghost stories used to be told about what happens in this parlor at midnight—allegedly, the dead Pyncheons assemble to make sure that the Colonel’s portrait retains its place, according to his instructions. The Judge never believed such stories, of course.
In contrast to the bustle of the Judge’s daily life, the atmosphere in the Pyncheon parlor is as still as a tomb—and the narrator hints that a ghostly rendezvous is about to occur.
Themes
Wrongdoing, Guilt, and Retribution Theme Icon
Wealth, Power, and Status Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Horror and Innocence Theme Icon
But supposing such were true, the Colonel would arrive first. But this time, something vexes him. Generations of other Pyncheon ghosts assemble to study the portrait. In the corner stands a carpenter, pointing and laughing inaudibly. Two other figures join the crowd—it appears to be Judge Pyncheon and his only son! How could this be? If it’s true that both are dead, then the House of the Seven Gables would pass down not to the Judge’s descendants, but to Clifford and Hepzibah and Phoebe.
The narrator, in somewhat teasing tones, describes what an assembly of Pyncheon ghosts would theoretically be like. Tonight, the assembly is different from usual. The carpenter—implicitly one of the Maule carpenters—jeers at the Pyncheons, as if the curse has achieved its goal. The sudden appearance of the Judge and his son give a clue—it seems that the Pyncheon greed has been brought to an end at last.
Themes
Wrongdoing, Guilt, and Retribution Theme Icon
Horror and Innocence Theme Icon
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This scene, of course, is mere fantasy, not a part of the actual story. The moonbeams, the wind, and the Judge’s immovable figure have prompted these fancies. A strange cat stares unnervingly in the window.
Again, the narrator suggests that this fantastical scene didn’t really happen—it’s up to the reader to interpret its significance. Meanwhile, the ghostly cat appears again, implying that it’s on a quest for a dead soul.
Themes
Horror and Innocence Theme Icon
The Judge’s watch has at last stopped ticking. Morning is breaking. Will the Judge finally stir and be about his postponed business? A fly stirs on the Judge’s once-forbidding face. The shop bell rings, a reminder that life continues outside of this deathly House.
The fly on the Judge’s face confirms that he is truly dead. Nevertheless, life is going on—showing that even formidable figures like the Judge do not have the power to cheat death.
Themes
Wrongdoing, Guilt, and Retribution Theme Icon
Wealth, Power, and Status Theme Icon
Horror and Innocence Theme Icon