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To be a paradigm of a Gothic novel, The House of Seven Gables needs to include many elements, all which center on the ideas of gloom, horror, and mystery. The action of a Gothic novel takes place in a “run-down, abandoned or occupied, mansion or castle,” which often include secret passages, doors, and compartments (Encarta). The mansion also adds its own flavor and variety to the atmosphere of mystery and suspense in the novel by providing a dark and gloomy setting where the story takes place. The basis of mystery and suspense in the atmosphere of the novel feeds off of “an unexplained or supernatural event” in the present or from past generations (Harris). The unexplained event in the novel is a result of ancient prophecy in connection with the history of the mansion, or the earlier generations, and explains the negative vicissitude in future present generations. The ancient prophecy sometimes only provides the reader with “partial or confusing” information or only provides one side of the story, thus presenting and even stronger feeling of mystery in the novel (Harris). Bad omens and visions of death also occur to foreshadow the misfortune of a character in the novel in the near future. The use of omens as foreshadowing devices also develops and presents additional suspense to the already mysterious plot. Along with omens, supernatural events also appear in a Gothic novel to add mystery and include: “ghosts, giants, or inanimate objects coming to life” (Harris). The supernatural events continue to add the atmosphere of suspense and even horror to the Gothic novel. In a Gothic novel, a “tyrannical male” usually threatens a weak female, adding an element of pathos provoking sadness by allowing the reader to sympathize over the misfortune of the woman (Harris). The inclusion of the elements of suspense, mystery, and gloom in a novel, along with the occurrence of supernatural and unexplained events, provide support for the novel as a Gothic piece of literature. By including all the elements, which standardize the content and atmosphere of the novel in the The House of Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne develops an exemplary example of a Gothic piece of literature.
To be considered a Gothic novel, The House of Seven Gables needs to first fulfill the requirements of the setting, including a once aristocratic run down mansion or castle with many secret doors, passages, and compartments. The elements in the setting produce effects in the development of the mysterious and gloomy atmosphere. In the early years of the Pyncheon family, Colonel Pyncheon steals the domicile and land of Mathew Maule out of greed and fulfillment of his superiority as an aristocrat. Colonel Pyncheon constructs the House of Seven Gables on Pyncheon Street, over the grave of the restless Mathew Maule, inheriting the curse of death within its walls. The anathema of death Mathew Maule sentences the residents House of Seven Gables to results in a scarcity of inhabitants, due to the fear for their lives, and therefore the house becomes extremely dark and lonesome to the later generations. The lack of denizens to upkeep the house results in the house itself showing the signs of the melancholy and gloom it contains, mirroring the affects of isolation on the life of Hepzibah Pyncheon. The isolation of the house provides the perfect lugubrious and mysterious setting for the story to take place: “Three of the seven gables either fronted or looked sideways, with a dark solemnity of aspect” (Hawthorne 59). The house of seven gables remains a dark abode for the melancholy Hepzibah Pyncheon, the lone denizen of the house other than the frequently absent mysterious and young daguerreotypist, Holgrave. The isolation produces extreme sadness and loneliness in the heart of Hepzibah Pyncheon, “she had dwelt to long in the Pyncheon house, until her very brain was impregnated with the dry rot of its timbers” and results in the dreary and run down atmosphere about the house (Hawthorne 40). The House of Seven Gables adds its own sense of gloom and sadness to the story by producing the melancholy feeling in the heart of Hepzibah Pyncheon. She reflects the sorrow back into the house with her lugubrious aspect, resulting in the continuous melancholy cycle inside the House of Seven Gables. The presence of the long forgotten aristocratic nature about the house slowly deteriorates throughout the Pyncheon generations, becoming apparent as Hepzibah stares at the area around the arched window: “It opened above the porch, where there had formerly been a balcony, the balustrade of which long since gone to decay, and been removed” (Hawthorne 110). Hawthorne contrasts the aristocratic history of the house to its present state, losing its aristocratic air, after the continuous cycle of the melancholy atmosphere takes the house within its retrograding grasp. The setting of The House of Seven Gables adds its own flavor to the atmosphere during the story, making it extremely isolated and doleful, thus fulfilling the requirements of the setting in a Gothic novel.
The setting also contributes to the mystery and suspense required in a Gothic novel by revealing hidden passages and compartments. As she makes her way to the chamber of Clifford Pyncheon, Hepzibah Pyncheon proceeds fearful of what lurks down the next passage: “and opened one crazy door after another, and ascended the creaking staircase, she gazed wistfully and fearfully around” (Hawthorne 167). The secret passages link the numerous chambers in the House of Seven Gables, adding a sense of precariousness and suspense due to the many figures, invisible to Hepzibah Pyncheon, possibly lurking within. In the House of Seven Gables there hides a secret compartment, center of greed in all generations of Maules and Pyncheons, which holds the deed to the land under the house. In each generation the dispute over land becomes the center of attention and fuels the ongoing feud between the Maules, Pyncheons, and even fuels the greed intermingled between the Pyncheons themselves. The whereabouts of the deed provides mystery in the novel until the mysterious Holgrave uncovers the deed lying in a recess of the wall behind the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon: “The portrait, frame and all, tumbled suddenly from its position?A recess in the wall thus brought to light” (Hawthorne 221). The portrait of the colonel finally ceases to hang in the house and reveals a recess, which holds the mysterious document, sought after by both the families of the Maules and Pyncheons. Holgrave uncovers the document, now useless because of its age, and adds to the horror in the novel by revealing the quest for land and the deaths it causes in the families of the Pyncheons and Maules to be in vain. The presence of the secret passages and compartments in the mansion provide a source of secrecy, adding the requirement of suspense and an unknowing feeling to the house, further proving The House of Seven Gables as a Gothic novel.
The next element in a Gothic novel is the relationship between the histories of the mansion or past generations to the misfortune of the present generation, resulting in the further sense of mystery in the novel. In the Pyncheon generation of Colonel Pyncheon, he accuses Mathew Maule of wizardry in a heinous scheme to obtain the land by murder. His plan succeeds, and as Mathew Maule treads the path towards his execution for witchcraft, Hawthorne develops mystery in the novel by stating the devious act Colonel Pyncheon commits: “Mathew Maule, the wizard, had been foully wronged out of his homestead, if not out of his life” (Hawthorne 13). By murdering Mathew Maule, Colonel Pyncheon brings an anathema of death upon the Pyncheon family and creates a feeling of mystery and horror as mysterious death surrounds the curse. In The House of Seven Gables, the relationship between the history to the addition of mystery in the novel occurs when describing the curse set upon the Pyncheons by the deceased Mathew Maule and its affect on later generations: “God will give him blood to drink!” (Hawthorne 3). The curse on the Pyncheons condemns them to death, resulting in the sudden and mysterious deaths of people in the Pyncheon mansion. The history of the Maules and Pyncheons, overflowing with horror and darkness, sets the mood of mystery and suspense of a Gothic novel Hawthorne carries throughout The House of Seven Gables. As the story continues the mystery of the Maule family occurs as a continuous and mysterious force taking hold of the Pyncheon family. As generations of Pyncheons pass, a later Mathew Maule summons the curse of blood upon Gervayse Pyncheon as he attempts to stop Maule from entrancing his daughter, Alice Pyncheon: “Mr. Pyncheon could make only a gurgling murmur in his throat” (Hawthorne 144). The resurrection of the curse again results in the in horror and mystery surrounding the Maules as they continue to plague the Pyncheon family. The history of each the Pyncheons and Maules present an abstruse and mysterious anathema the townspeople use to describe and explain the misfortune of later Pyncheon generations. By including the mysterious past of the Pyncheons to explain misfortune of later generations, The House of Seven Gables fulfills one more requirement to resemble a Gothic piece of literature.
Another characteristic of a Gothic novel The House of Seven Gables exhibits is the use of supernatural and unexplained events to strike horror and mystery into the mind of the reader. The main use of unexplained events in The House of Seven Gables appears in the death of a Pyncheon and its relation to the mysterious curse set upon the Pyncheons by Mathew Maule. A few days after Colonel Pyncheon moves into the House of Seven Gables, he turns up dead as his grandchild races to his chair to find blood in his mouth, as if to fulfill the curse: “there was blood on his ruff, and that his hoary beard was saturated with it” (Hawthorne 8). After finding the Colonel Pyncheon dead, the town immediately turns to blame his misfortune on the curse of blood he acquires from the dying Mathew Maule. With Colonel Pyncheon dead, a horrific and mysterious atmosphere surrounds the House of Seven Gables and Maule’s anathema, as if proving its truth. By creating the mysterious and horror-filled atmosphere in The House of Seven Gables through the use of an unexplained, supernatural event, Hawthorne includes another characteristic to prove the House of Seven Gables as a Gothic novel.
The main characteristic Hawthorne uses to portray The House of Seven Gables, as a Gothic novel, is the use of bad omens. Bad omens appear in the form of the presence of ghosts, to foreshadow death and adversity, continuing the atmosphere of mystery and misery. The first mention of ghosts occurs when Phoebe Pyncheon inquires about the death of Clifford Pyncheon. Hepzibah responds in a mysterious and haunting tone, which reiterates the atmosphere in the mansion: “in old houses like this, you know, dead people are very apt to come back again!” (Hawthorne 52). Hepzibah uses the gloomy and dark house to explain the presence of ghosts and ghostly images as bad omens of death, which occur in the Pyncheon family. Another example of a bad omen fueling the atmosphere of mystery occurs when Holgrave explains the nature of the bewitched and brackish water in Maule’s well. Maule’s well, springing up from the ground beneath the House of Seven Gables, contains the tainted water as a result of the construction of the House of Seven Gables, and which serves as a symbol of the Pyncheons interfering with the affairs of the Maules: “like an old lady’s cup of tea it is water bewitched!” (Hawthorne 65). The bad omen Maule’s well emits ironically explains the parallel between the Pyncheon mansion interfering with the water of the well, resulting in spoiled water, to the interference of Colonel Pyncheon in the land of Mathew Maule, resulting in the curse of death. Hawthorne also uses a bad omen to explain the continuous cycle of misfortune and death plaguing the Pyncheon family and the House of Seven Gables. As Holgrave explores the deep chambers of the Pyncheon mansion he uncovers a packet of seed which Hawthorne ironically uses as a bad omen to show the curse of death on a Pyncheon who, “meant to sow them the next summer, but was himself first sown in Death’s garden ground” (Hawthorne 102). The bad omen of death again foreshadows the result of the mysterious curse set on the Pyncheon by Mathew Maule. The use of bad omens also adds to the atmosphere of suspense present in The House of Seven Gables by hinting at the deaths to come in the future Pyncheon families. By including the element of bad omens, as a means of foreshadowing, the House of Seven Gables fulfills yet another characteristic to prove it as a Gothic novel.
Along with bad omens, visions of death are also present in The House of Seven Gables to foreshadow death, adding another characteristic of a Gothic novel. Just after Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon arrives at the mansion to call on Clifford Pyncheon, Hepzibah ventures through the house to Clifford’s chamber only to find him missing. Upon her return she finds Jaffrey Pyncheon inert in the oak chair as if in a state of carelessness. Soon after Hepzibah Pyncheon and Clifford Pyncheon flee, a vision of death occurs in the parlor containing the seemingly lifeless, Jaffrey Pyncheon. The grimalkin stares into the window of the parlor, stalking a mouse for his taste, resembling the devil, in search of Jaffrey Pyncheon’s soul: “Is it a cat watching for a mouse, or the devil for a human soul?” (Hawthorne 195). By comparing the cat to the devil, Hawthorne implies the death of Jaffrey Pyncheon as his soul waiting for the devil’s harvest. The vision of death Hawthorne uses fulfills the last element needed to finish the atmosphere of mystery, horror, and suspense in The House of Seven Gables, completing the proper atmosphere present in a Gothic novel.
Through the rule of the tyrannical Jaffrey Pyncheon over the weak and main female character, Hepzibah Pyncheon, The House of Seven Gables portrays the element of pathos to provoke sadness in the reader. Throughout the novel Jaffrey appears as the dominant force controlling the life of Hepzibah Pyncheon, as she always worries about his approval of her life. After opening the cent shop, Hepzibah Pyncheon observes Jaffrey Pyncheon inspecting the shop and concerns herself with the shop meeting the inspection of her oppressive cousin: “What does he think of it, I wonder? Does it please him?” (Hawthorne 39). Upon noticing Jaffery Pyncheon, Hepzibah Pyncheon immediately concerns herself with whether or not the aristocratic Jaffery Pyncheon accepts the democratic cent shop held up in the family mansion. By displaying the concern for acceptance Hepzibah illustrates the tyrannical male in the novel, Jaffery Pyncheon, dominating her life, providing part of the pathos-provoking element in The House of Seven Gables.
As Clifford Pyncheon later arrives to live in the House of Seven Gables, Jaffery arrives, demanding Clifford’s presence from Hepzibah Pyncheon, exhibiting another example of his domination over her. Knowing the emotional attachment Hepzibah develops for her brother Clifford, Jaffrey takes advantage of his position and threatens Hepzibah if she denies the appearance of Clifford Pyncheon: “the alternative is his confinement, probably for the remainder of his life, in a public asylum for persons in his unfortunate state of mind” (Hawthorne 164). By taking advantage of his position, Jaffrey Pyncheon, knowing Hepzibah Pyncheon’s submissiveness to him, threatens to remove the one person she lives for, Clifford Pyncheon. As Jaffery Pyncheon continues to rule over the melancholy and isolated Hepzibah it strikes sympathy in the heart of the reader for the misfortune Hepzibah Pyncheon. The imperious relationship between Jaffery and Hepzibah completes the element of a male tyrant seeking domination over a feeble woman and fulfills the last criteria in presenting the House of Seven Gables as a Gothic novel.
The use of the elements of mystery, suspense, and horror in the House of Seven Gables creates the atmosphere common to a Gothic novel. The use of the supernatural and other mysterious events, in the House of Seven Gables, also compose the elements present in Gothic Literature. By presenting the elements through the setting and plot, The House of Seven Gables contains all requirements of a Gothic novel, claiming its spot in dark halls of the Gothic literature genre.
“Gothic Literature.” Encarta Encyclopedia: Microsoft. 2nd Ed. 1998.
Harris, Robert. Vanguard University of Southern California Gothic Literature Page. 20 November 2000. <http://www.vanguard.edu/rharris/gothic.html>
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of Seven Gables. New York: Dover Publications, 1999.
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