In The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne exhibits the fate of a family due to a curse by analyzing the most “disagreeable” secrets of a man’s soul (Great Lives 1077). Hawthorne shows the decay of an aristocratic family due to the sins of the past. He uses allegory within his character’s personalities and emotions to expose “the truth of the human heart” (biography). Hawthorne’s chosen location for this novel reflects greatly on his life and specifically his childhood.
Salem is the home of The House of the Seven Gables. Ironically this is the same town in which he was born in and lived in through adulthood. He was raised in this town, therefore he was very aware of the dark side of its past. He was a part of this past through his ancestors. One of which was a judge in the infamous Salem witch trials. At this trial Hawthorne’s uncle is cursed by a so-called witch with the words, “God will give you blood to drink” (Magill 2736). This curse is much similar to Matthew Maule’s curse on the Pyncheon family (Magill 2734).
The solitude of his characters reflects his childhood as well. Growing up, his mother kept herself away from people which led him to become a very solitary man for much of his life. As a young child Hawthorne was lamed. During these years he became well learned with the writings of Edmund Spenser, John Bunyan, and William Shakespear(CSLF 1570). From these men he has Having lived in Salem most of his life, Hawthorne is extremely influenced by Puritanism. His writings greatly reflect this. Hawthorne deals much with the sins of a man being pasted down for generations. This is very much a Puritan belief. Puritans are a very superstitious type of person. Thus, this explains Hawthorne’s belief that a curse, such as Maule’s curse, can destroy a well-to-do family (Walker 1577).
Hawthorne’s characters dealt with guilt forced on by their ancestor, much of which goes back as far as the Puritans. He commonly plays guilt against innocence within one character, Hepzibah Pyncheon. She feels strongly that she must maintain the lifestyle and tradition of her ancestor Colonel Pyncheon. He shows her many personalities as a demonstration of the “secret motivations” of the heart (biography). Hepzibah is chained to the curse by her Puritan ancestors therefore her efforts to escape are often doomed. When she no longer has the money to fight the destruction of her blood line she turns to the shop of the past for survival.
The style with which Hawthorne portrays this character among others is very superstitious, and they deal much with the evil side of a human being. He often uses a man’s battle with sin and the devil as a source of controversy (Great Lives 1077). The Puritan background instilled in him the reality of the devil and the evil of sinning. In characters such as Hepzibah he uses evil and pain as a game (Encyclopedia of World Biography 214). She spends her life trying to escape from the dreaded Maule’s curse which makes her suffer in the isolation she has received as a punishment. Hawthorne emphasizes the imperfection of man often (Encyclopedia of World Biography).
None of his character are completely good. They all have evil thoughts at one time or another. His characters must deal with the dividing line between what is real and what is imaginary (Great Lives 1077). He focuses on the point that the “truth of the human heart” cannot be found by any earthly source. Thus, Hepzibah’s changing personalities display this question of whom a person really is. Are they good or evil? Are their actions black or white? This leads into Hawthorne’s Transcendentalist beliefs. In the time Hawthorne is writing a movement known as transcendentalism was affecting literature and art. Hawthorne is known as a dark transcendentalist because he focuses strongly on the dark and sinful side of human kind. In The House of the Seven Gables, he focuses on the self- examination of character which is a significant idea in transcendentalism (Encarta Encyclopedia).
He believes a human cannot reach the insights of transcendentalism by mere sensual experience. They must reach a new level of understanding. This is similar to Hepzibah inability to understand Clifford reason and state of mind. He has been alone many years away from daily sin and the darkness of the evil within the house. It also relates to Hepzibah’s inability to understand her emotion until Phoebe comes into the picture. Phoebe helps her to see the light and that not everything is dark and gloomy. However, Hepzibah still has to fight a battle with the side of her that wants to remain hidden and entrapped by the curse of Old Maule. Transcendentalists speak of the “divine and supernatural light” (gonzaga 1).
The House of the Seven Gables is haunted with the supernatural and it takes a higher understanding to break the chains of the curse, Hawthorne places the light against the dark with Hepzibah the dark, and Phoebe the light. Hepzibah’s darkness always out powers Phoebe’s happiness without intension. The darkness signifies the imperfection of man that transcendentalists Hawthorne’s feelings on life alone create the base of misfortune whether by curse or desire. His writing is often allegorical and moralistic when dealing with the life of his characters. They fight moral issues, many dealing with the loss and possession of money. His characters live a very isolated life much like his own.
In The House of the Seven Gables loneliness is the punishment Hepzibah pays for the sin of the Colonel. The pain in the character’s lives comes from this isolation, however when they try to live among the people they retreat back into their holes. (WLC 1597). Hawthorne was identical to this until he met his wife Sophia. His characters’ pride is the source of their evil. They fight to hold the lives they lead without the consideration to modern times. Their lives come into moral Hawthorne’s transcendentalist views of humanity and his belief in the devil result in the evil side to his characters. The curse put upon them from generations back plagues them in modern time due to their refusal to move on. Their personalities portray “the truth of the human heart”