The House of the Seven Gables

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That night, Phoebe sleeps in a chamber overlooking the house’s old garden. The next morning, she is awakened by the dawn. Spotting a white rosebush from her window, she goes down to the garden to gather flowers to decorate her room. Phoebe has a gift for “practical arrangement”—for seeing the potential of the things around her and for making any place feel like home.
Phoebe’s contrast to Hepzibah is immediately apparent—she is much more at ease in her surroundings than her less practical, elderly cousin, and her youthful innocence seems to beautify everything around her. The imagery of an innocent maiden is common in Gothic literature.
Themes
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On Phoebe’s way back downstairs, Hepzibah calls her into her chamber and tells Phoebe that she doesn’t see how Phoebe can stay with her for any length of time. She explains that neither the house nor her own temperament are suitable for a young girl, and she can’t even be sure of feeding her. Phoebe replies that she was not brought up a Pyncheon and, having learned a lot in her home village, intends to earn her own bread. Hepzibah also explains that she will soon have to provide for another. She shows Phoebe the miniature of Clifford, of whom Phoebe has never heard. But since Phoebe is undeterred, Hepzibah agrees to let her remain for the time being.
Phoebe continues to present a contrast to the other Pyncheons with her undaunted sense of initiative. Even Hepzibah is won over by Phoebe’s warmth, which dispels some of the House’s gloomy atmosphere.
Themes
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Phoebe cheerfully makes breakfast, breaking into song now and then. Hepzibah gets out an old family tea-set which has seldom been used. Admiring the careful way that Phoebe washes the cups, Hepzibah praises her as “a nice little housewife,” something she obviously must have gotten from her mother’s side. Just as they are sitting down to breakfast, the shop bell rings, and Phoebe jumps up to answer it, explaining that she has a knack for sales as well.
Phoebe is everything Hepzibah is not—besides being young, energetic, and cheerful, she is domestically inclined, demonstrative, and business-oriented. She is the opposite of Hepzibah’s aloof gentility.
Themes
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Hepzibah watches with genuine admiration as Phoebe successfully barters with an old lady in the shop, and she agrees to Phoebe’s various proposals for improving business, all the while telling herself that Phoebe can never be a “lady,” since she is not a Pyncheon. Phoebe, indeed, is an example of feminine grace in a “plebeian” sense, while Hepzibah, with her self-consciousness of being an “educated lady,” is a model of older gentility.
Even as Hepzibah acknowledges that Phoebe is her superior in practical matters, she can’t help retaining a sense of class superiority that she believes is unattainable to Phoebe. In every way that Hepzibah is aristocratic, Phoebe is solidly middle-class.
Themes
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As if sensing Phoebe’s presence, customers flow into the shop all day. Gingerbread sells out once again, thanks to little Ned Higgins. Uncle Venner praises the angelic character of Phoebe’s work, and indeed there’s “a spiritual quality” to it—even mundane tasks become lovely in her hands, as if they “bloom out of her character.”
Phoebe’s practical business sense appeals to others. Indeed, in everything she does, there’s a sense that what one sees on the outside is what’s on the inside, too—unlike Judge Pyncheon, for instance.
Themes
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Later that day, Hepzibah gives Phoebe a tour of the House of the Seven Gables, showing her Colonel Pyncheon’s portrait and the map of the fabled territory in Maine. She telling Phoebe about Alice Pyncheon, who died under mysterious circumstances and is now said to haunt the house, sometimes playing the harpsichord as she’d done during life.
Phoebe’s status as a relative outsider to the Pyncheon family lets the reader identify with her innocence and curiosity in getting to know the House. It also means that she is untouched by the family’s preoccupation with wealth and status.
Themes
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Hepzibah also speaks of Holgrave and his strange, long-bearded friends, who include reformers, temperance lecturers, and other suspect characters. Yet he is a quiet and not unpleasant person, and she can’t bring herself to send him away. Phoebe protests that he sounds “lawless,” but Hepzibah has had reason to mistrust human law in her own life.
Holgrave, at least according to Hepzibah, is connected to radical social reform movements that were popular in the mid-19th century, but Hepzibah tolerates his strangeness because of her own sense of disconnection from mainstream society. Phoebe, however, is staunchly law-abiding and finds his radicalism alarming.
Themes
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