The House of the Seven Gables


Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

After tea, Phoebe goes into the garden. She is surprised to see evidence that the garden has been tended—someone has been weeding and pruning the flowers and vegetables. There’s also a fountain and an old coop, housing a pure but not very productive family of heirloom chickens.
The Pyncheon chickens are a humorous symbol of the family’s own situation: an aristocratic bloodline in decline.
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As Phoebe is befriending the chickens, Holgrave appears with a hoe in hand, surprising her. Phoebe introduces herself to the “lawless” daguerreotypist, who explains that tending the garden is his pastime. He offers to show Phoebe some of his professional work, arguing that while many daguerreotypes look unpleasant, it’s only because their subjects really are unpleasant. Phoebe looks at the miniature he hands her, seeing the face of Colonel Pyncheon. Holgrave tells her that it’s actually a modern face, Judge Pyncheon’s—one which shows good humor in public, but whose photographed expression reflects the Colonel’s cold, unmerciful character.
Holgrave argues that photographs generally tell the truth about their subjects, much as Colonel Pyncheon’s portrait does. In Judge Pyncheon’s case, a photograph can even reveal what that person’s normal exterior does not. Unlike Phoebe, who expects things to be just what they seem, Holgrave seeks deeper layers of meaning in everything.
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Related Quotes
Phoebe is puzzled by Holgrave’s unceremonious character—he seems both playful and grave—but she agrees to his offer to let her take over the tending of the flowers. Before retiring for the evening, Holgrave warns her not to drink from Maule’s well, because its water is bewitched.
Holgrave’s unpredictability unsettles the transparent Phoebe. Holgrave’s apparent belief in the bewitched well is surprising given his generally rational outlook, suggesting that he has a specific interest in the story of the Maules and Pyncheons.
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Inside, Phoebe finds Hepzibah sitting in the darkened parlor. As Phoebe lights a lamp for her, she thinks she hears a strange voice—more of an “unshaped sound” than spoken words. It seems unreal to her, and Hepzibah confirms that she didn’t speak. When Phoebe, again suspecting she hears breathing in a corner, asks if there is anyone else in the room, Hepzibah just says that Phoebe must be tired and should go to bed. But in the night, Phoebe is sure that she hears halting footsteps on the stairs and the same strange, murmuring voice.
This scene is one of the Gothic horror elements in the novel—Phoebe perceives strange phenomena she cannot explain. Hawthorne sprinkles such details throughout the story in order to unsettle the reader’s sense of what’s real and to deepen the sense of melancholy surrounding the House and its inhabitants.
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