The House of the Seven Gables

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Judge Pyncheon’s sudden death creates a sensation. Yet, as is the case with most people, the community reconciles itself to his loss quickly, especially once it’s confirmed that his death appears to have been natural. Rumors still persist—rumors tracing back to Uncle Jaffrey’s death 30 years ago. Somehow, a rumor begins to circulate that Clifford wasn’t responsible after all. Some claim that a mesmerist friend of Holgrave’s saw this in a trance.
Now that the Judge is no longer around to control the local narrative, rumors circulate more freely, leading to Clifford’s possible vindication. Though Hawthorne wasn’t a fan of the mesmerism craze, in this instance he uses mesmerism as a possible force for truthfulness and justice.
Themes
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The newly circulating story claims that the youthful Judge Pyncheon was an “irreclaimable scapegrace” of lowly character. One night, the future Judge had searched his uncle’s papers. When Uncle Jaffrey stumbled upon his nephew in the act, he suffered a hereditary attack, fell, and struck his head. While waiting for his uncle’s death, the Judge discovered a will that favored Clifford, destroyed it, and kept an older one which favored him. He already hated Clifford, and when suspicion fell on the latter, he declined to tell that he’d seen what really happened.
Judge Pyncheon was indirectly responsible for Uncle Jaffrey’s death all along, and he allowed Clifford to take the fall for it. This is the soul-rotting wrongdoing that he had suppressed and avoided facing for three decades and which ruined Clifford’s life as well. This confirms Hawthorne’s ongoing argument that people’s exterior personalities tend to conceal their (often sinister) inner character.
Themes
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Horror and Innocence Theme Icon
About a week after the Judge’s death, news of his son’s death of cholera reaches them. That means that the entire property passes into the hands of Clifford, Phoebe, and Hepzibah. Though Clifford could be vindicated at this point, it is no longer worth the trouble to him. His situation can never be fully set right, and it’s best that time erase the memory of his sufferings.
Even though Clifford is innocent, there is only so far that things can be set right. This suggests that the corrupting effects of the curse can’t always be overcome in time to vindicate every victim.
Themes
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After the Judge’s death, however, Clifford is able to be happy. He, Hepzibah, and Phoebe decide to move out of the House of the Seven Gables and establish themselves in the Judge’s country estate. They, along with Uncle Venner, gather in the parlor one last time. Clifford suddenly remembers that, in his youth, he had discovered a secret spring in the portrait. When the spring is pressed, the portrait suddenly tumbles to the floor, revealing a recess in the wall containing a sheet of parchment. The parchment is the Indian deed for the long-ago Pyncheon territory in Maine.
Clifford’s story of this discovery, told when he was a boy, misled the Judge into believing that Clifford knew the secret location of Uncle Jaffrey’s alleged wealth. Of course, the deed is worthless after all. The portrait literally contained the truth of the situation all along. Now that Holgrave will marry Phoebe, the Pyncheon property will finally be restored to the Maule family.
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Holgrave then reveals to Phoebe that he is a descendant of the Maules. He already knew about the secret spring. His ancestor, Thomas, the carpenter who built the House of the Seven Gables, built this recess and hid the Indian deed therein.
The reason for Holgrave’s longstanding interest in the Pyncheons is finally revealed. As a Maule descendant, his impending marriage to Phoebe symbolically heals the rift between the two families.
Themes
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Related Quotes
Phoebe invites Uncle Venner to come and live with them on the estate, where he can help keep Clifford’s spirits up. Clifford urges him to agree, and he does. Then a carriage draws up to convey them all to the country. Clifford and Hepzibah say an unemotional farewell to the House of the Seven Gables. When Ned Higgins runs up, Hepzibah gives him a handful of silver as a reward for being her very first customer. Dixey and his companion watch the carriage drive off, and Dixey declares that Hepzibah’s cent shop must have been a “pretty good business!” As Uncle Venner walks off, he imagines that he hears Alice Pyncheon playing the harpsichord one last time before floating to heaven.
With the vindication of Clifford, the union of Phoebe and Holgrave, and the vacancy of the House of the Seven Gables, things end happily for the remaining Pyncheon family and their friends—and even for the family ghosts. The cycle of guilt and retribution is over.
Themes
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Horror and Innocence Theme Icon