The House of the Seven Gables

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Around noon, a portly, opulently-dressed gentleman with a gold-headed cane passes by on the opposite side of the street and studies Hepzibah’s shop window through a pair of spectacles. He almost enters the shop, but Ned Higgins goes in ahead of him, and by the time Hepzibah has sold the boy his third cookie of the day, the man has gone. Hepzibah mutters, “Take it as you like, Cousin Jaffrey!”
“Cousin Jaffrey” is not to be confused with Uncle Jaffrey, the relative who died under mysterious circumstances 30 years ago; the younger Jaffrey is the well-respected Judge Pyncheon. Here, it’s evident that there is bad blood between Hepzibah and her cousin.
Themes
Wealth, Power, and Status Theme Icon
Inside, Hepzibah paces, coming to a stop before Colonel Pyncheon’s portrait. She trembles, imagining that the Colonel’s hard expression reveals the truth of Cousin Jaffrey’s character, too. She also calls to mind the softer, more sensitive expression on the miniature she’d studied that morning. Sadly, she reflects that “they persecuted his mother in him! He never was a Pyncheon!”
In contrast to the Colonel and the Judge, who show a hardness of heart, the figure in the miniature doesn’t take after the men in his family, which Hepzibah feels made him vulnerable to persecution.
Themes
Wrongdoing, Guilt, and Retribution Theme Icon
Horror and Innocence Theme Icon
Then the shop bell summons Hepzibah again, and she finds a wrinkled, nearly toothless man in a patched-together outfit, a longtime neighbor named Uncle Venner. He is a tough and vigorous old man who does errands like wood-splitting, digging, and snow-shoveling to support himself, taking a clergyman-like interest in the families who employ him. Though he has long been regarded as mentally deficient, he offers a poetic sort of homespun wisdom, and Hepzibah likes him.
Uncle Venner is an example of someone who, like several other characters, is more complex than his outward appearance suggests. However, unlike some of those others—such as Judge Pyncheon, whose cruel side Hepzibah has just been thinking about—Uncle Venner is wiser than he looks.
Themes
Wealth, Power, and Status Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Uncle Venner speaks kindly to Hepzibah about her new venture, saying that it’s good for young people not to remain idle. For his own part, he means to retire to the farm—what others call the workhouse—in a few years. Uncle Venner mentions seeing Judge Pyncheon on the street and wonders why he doesn’t provide for Hepzibah; Hepzibah says it is her business, not the Judge’s, if she chooses to earn her own bread. Uncle Venner gives Hepzibah some advice on commerce and then asks her when she expects “him” home. Hepzibah shuts down this conversation, too.
The “workhouse” refers to the almshouse which sheltered those in a town who were too poor to provide for themselves. Uncle Venner’s whimsical humor shows genuine concern for Hepzibah, but she is accustomed to fending for herself and especially scorns Judge Pyncheon’s help. She is also motivated by the impending arrival of a mysterious “him.”
Themes
Wealth, Power, and Status Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
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Hepzibah daydreams through the rest of the day, making many blunders and selling her entire stock of gingerbread to Ned Higgins. As she’s finally closing down the shop, an omnibus stops outside, sending Hepzibah’s heart into her throat. However, a slender, cheery young girl alights. Hepzibah realizes it is Phoebe, a distant Pyncheon cousin, who has arrived unannounced for a visit. As Hepzibah opens the door to welcome her, she resolves that Phoebe can only stay for one night, lest Clifford be disturbed.
Hepzibah obviously expects someone else to emerge from the omnibus (a horse-drawn cab). Phoebe’s arrival introduces a character whose innocence and unfamiliarity with the House of the Seven Gables, which may give an alternate perspective on events involving this otherwise insular family.
Themes
Horror and Innocence Theme Icon