The House of the Seven Gables

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Phoebe finds Ned Higgins in the shop. Ned tells Phoebe that Clifford is Hepzibah’s brother but doesn’t explain where Clifford has been. As Ned leaves, a portly, well-dressed, cheerful-looking man enters. He greets Phoebe in flattering tones, bowing and smiling. When he realizes that Phoebe is a relative, he introduces himself as Judge Pyncheon. When he leans forward to offer a kiss of greeting, Phoebe instinctively draws back, blushing, which leaves Judge Pyncheon awkwardly kissing the air. When Phoebe looks up again, the Judge’s mild expression has become hard and unyielding.
Phoebe’s encounter with Judge Pyncheon is a good example of her innocent transparency versus his flattering, false exterior. The Judge’s moods are startlingly changeable, suggesting that his true nature is never hidden far beneath the good-natured exterior. He is a startling contrast to the gentle Clifford.
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Phoebe realizes that Judge Pyncheon is the subject of the miniature daguerreotype which Holgrave had shown her yesterday. She wonders if the hard expression is really the Judge’s natural temperament—one that was passed down to him by Colonel Pyncheon. If so, it seems to be proof that the defects of one generation are passed down to the rest.
Seeing the Judge’s momentary coldness, Phoebe quickly observes that Holgrave’s claim about daguerreotypes was true—they really do capture a person’s essence. She also perceives that the Judge’s personality seems to be hereditary, instinctively picking up on the nature of the multigenerational Pyncheon curse.
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When Phoebe looks again, however, Judge Pyncheon has resumed his sunny, benevolent mood. Phoebe stays reserved, unable to shake the feeling that Colonel Pyncheon has entered the shop after a quick stop at the barber’s and a change into updated fashions.
To Phoebe, Judge Pyncheon seems to be the Colonel reincarnate. Her status as a distant cousin raised apart from the other Pyncheons, their character, and their outlook seems to give her special insight into their flaws.
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Judge Pyncheon’s reputation is as good as his venerable ancestor’s, but public testimony isn’t always as reliable as private. For example, traditions have circulated that both the Colonel and the Judge, for all their outward generosity, are guilty of greed. Both are rumored to have been heartbreakingly harsh toward their wives.
Just because a person’s public reputation is sound, the narrator argues, doesn’t mean that their inner character matches what they project outwardly. This seems to be especially the case with high-status figures like the Judge and the Colonel.
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Phoebe hasn’t heard these rumors and isn’t very familiar with the Pyncheon family history. But she does know the story of Matthew Maule’s curse and the story that blood could sometimes be heard gurgling in Pyncheon throats—so when she hears an odd noise in the Judge’s throat, she startles. Judge Pyncheon supposes that her fear is because of the arrival of Clifford. Phoebe replies that Clifford is the gentlest man imaginable.
Phoebe isn’t familiar with either the Judge’s public reputation or the privately-circulated legends, but she knows the sign of the supposed curse when she hears it. The Judge tries to cast Clifford as being a dangerous man, which Phoebe already intuits as untrue.
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When Phoebe tries to stop Judge Pyncheon from entering the house unannounced, he sets her aside, reminding her that she is the stranger here. He smiles warmly at Hepzibah, who, hearing him approach, blocks the doorway. He tells Hepzibah that he has come to see Clifford and offer him anything he might need—they can even come to live on his country estate so that he and Hepzibah might tend to Clifford together. A weak, frightened cry from the other room interrupts them—Clifford begs Hepzibah not to let the Judge enter. At the sound, the Judge’s expression turns more darkly forbidding than ever. But he quickly corrects himself, resuming his warmth and promising to come back another time.
Judge Pyncheon shows that he has the ability to be forceful and intrusive when he wishes to be—and Hepzibah shows her fortitude in the face of his attempts to cajole her. Clifford obviously has a longstanding fear of the Judge. Although the Judge relents in his quest to see Clifford, there is definitely the sense that he will not be so acquiescent the next time.
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After the Judge leaves, Hepzibah rests her head on Phoebe’s shoulder, calling the Judge “the horror of [her] life.” She sends Phoebe to calm and comfort Clifford. Phoebe does so, wondering whether judges and other such eminent men really can be other than what they seem. The thought is disturbing to her, and she sets it aside, figuring that Hepzibah’s bitterness is due to a family feud.
Though supernatural horrors have been hinted at throughout the book so far, what horrifies Hepzibah the most is a human being. This suggests that, regardless of the fanciful details, people can do greater harm to one another than any curse can.
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