The House of the Seven Gables


Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Themes and Colors
Wrongdoing, Guilt, and Retribution Theme Icon
Wealth, Power, and Status Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Horror and Innocence Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Progress Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The House of the Seven Gables, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Wrongdoing, Guilt, and Retribution

In his preface to The House of the Seven Gables, author Nathaniel Hawthorne states his book’s primary “moral”: “the truth, namely, that the wrongdoing of one generation lives into the successive ones […] [becoming] uncontrollable mischief.” In other words, one generation’s misdeed affects subsequent generations in ways that the original perpetrator can neither predict nor control once events are set in motion. The guilt of the perpetrator’s act, then, lands on subsequent generations in…

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Wealth, Power, and Status

In the author’s preface, Hawthorne includes “the folly of tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an unfortunate posterity, thereby to maim and crush them” in the book’s “moral.” Throughout the novel, though, it isn’t so much the presence of riches acquired through immoral meals, but the aspiration for wealth (or the desire for more) that crushes later generations. In the Pyncheon family, early wealth engenders power through…

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Appearances vs. Reality

The House of the Seven Gables is characterized by an interplay between what appears to be true versus what’s actually true. For example, Clifford, rumored to be hardened criminal, is actually a tender-hearted man who’s sensitive to beauty. Similarly, Hepzibah’s customary scowl (due to nearsightedness) gives a misleading view of her personality: “her heart never frowned.” Though inward goodness sometimes manifests outwardly—as in the example of Phoebe—more often, outward, public appearances mask…

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Horror and Innocence

In the author’s preface, Hawthorne observes that he will “mingle the Marvelous” as an element of the story, allowing some of the “legendary mist” of the past to hover over the action for “picturesque effect.” The House of the Seven Gables is an example of the Gothic genre, which is characterized by sensational hints of crime or madness, the presence of picturesque, brooding architecture, and an overall lingering gloom and melancholy. Hawthorne blends such elements…

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Time, Change, and Progress

The titular House of the Seven Gables seems to be stuck in the 17th century in which it was built. It is haunted by a centuries-old feud which seems to consign the very building—as well as is residents—to inescapable decay. A youthful newcomer like Phoebe can temporarily arrest this aging process, but the House takes its toll on her as well. This view of human aging is reflected in the novel’s perspective on societal progress…

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