The House of Seven Gables

The Analysis of Light and Dark Imagery
Nathaniel Hawthorne?s The House of the Seven Gables, uses many qualities of symbolism which help develop the novel?s main ideas. Darkness is the emblematic "color" of the Pyncheon?s. Contrasted with its opposite, light, it forms one of the major symbols of the novel: the opposition of dark and light. Hawthorne uses dark imagery throughout his novel to express a sense of decay, but he also uses light imagery to inject hope.
Nathaniel Hawthorne in The House of the Seven Gables describes Phoebe as "an illuminating speck of light transforming the darkness of the house like the light of dawn" (92). This description of Phoebe, using light imagery, expresses that she is an innocent woman with an inner spirit to help break the Pyncheon?s curse. Clark Giffith records in Hawthorne?s Imagery: The "Proper Light and Shadow" in the Major Romances that "Phoebe is rather too obviously a little ray of sunshine..." (37). When Phoebe enters the house "from the sunny daylight," and is almost blinded by the "density of shadows" lurking in the passages of the old house, the contrast between Phoebe?s lighted presence against the dark gloomy house can be seen.
The old Pyncheon-elm, which stands over the house, is a symbol of resurrection from the darkness and decay. In Chapter nineteen, "Alice?s Posies," the Pyncheon elm is suddenly filled with the morning sun in fact, one branch of the elm has been "transmutated to bright gold." The elm is particularly special at the end of the novel because it was left unharmed after the storm, the rest of the tree is "in perfect verdure," a symbol of life not of death. The tree has come to symbolize nature and nature?s resurrection, and in a sense this resurrection of nature provides a strong image of hope. Masterpieces of American Literature suggests "As the house and its inhabitants have decayed, the elm tree has grown almost as though it were nourished by the decay of the Pyncheon family... The elm has grown with each season, but the inhabitants of the house have become stunted." (Magill 221-222). The Pyncheon?s elm is full of life and light because it has finally succeeded in overshadowing the Pyncheon?s dark and desolate household.
In Chapter one, "The Old Pyncheon Family," Hawthorne describes the house using various "dark" elements. He expresses to his readers that the house is in ruins and is destined to collapse, which is representative of the Pyncheon family. Richard Fogle states in Hawthorne?s Fiction: The Light and the Dark:
There is a certain suggestion in the novel, though, that the humanity and dignity
of the house are inseparable from its troubles; this suggestion is found in the
contrasting images of light and dark. Although storm and sunshine have
constituted the history of the house, the darkness of the ominous storm is
prevalent, as ?the venerable mansion...grew black in the east-wind.? This
darkness is early foreshadowed. Hawthorne describes how the terror and
ugliness of Maule?s crime ?darkened? the freshly painted walls of the house
until it became a gray, feudal castle. (220-221)
Hawthorne?s use of darkness in the novel usually represents the decaying of either theHawthorne?s use of darkness in the novel usually represents the decaying of either the house or the family. In American Writers , Leonard Unger states "Clifford?s dressing gown is now a dark and faded garment, and it is thus a fitting emblem for its wearer and a symbol for the entire Pyncheon family" (242). Leonard Unger also goes on to state that there are many other objects located in the Pyncheon?s house that symbolizes the decaying lifestyle of the Pyncheons family:
The darkness of the old Pyncheon house is impressive and significant.
Within its depths are shadowy emblems of the past, each representing evil
geniuses of the Pyncheon family. The ancestral chair is a reminder not only
of the old Colonel but also the susceptibility to Maule?s curse (what appears
to be apoplexy); the portrait and the map are dimly visible tokens of the
Colonel?s inflexible sternness and greed. The harpsichord is likened to a
coffin (recalling Alice?s fatal pride). None of the objects can be
distinguished very clearly in the darkness, but the novel shows that they
have an inescapable reality. (244-245)
In Chapter seventeen, "The Guest," Clifford describes the Pyncheon?s dark and deadly house of the