The House of the Seven Gables: An Influential Past

In the 19th century novel, The House of the Seven Gables, Nathanial Hawthorne explores how events of the past curse those living in the present. Colonel Pyncheon, a greedy and respected Puritan, wrongfully takes the land of the wizard Maule to build an extravagate home. After the wizard curses the house, the descendants of the Pyncheon family decline in all aspects of life. Hawthorne uses symbolic elements found throughout the house to prove that past events and generations directly influence the actions of present individuals.
Accordingly, Hawthorne fashions a parallel between the chickens and the Pyncheon family in order to demonstrate the Pyncheon?s fall from grace. Much like the Pyncheon family, the chickens were once majestic. As time has passed, the chickens have decayed into pathetic creatures; ?It was evident that the race [of chickens] had degenerated, like many a noble race besides, in consequence of too strict a watchfulness to keep it pure? (61). After generations of inbreeding to keep their blood clean, the chickens have diminished into ugly animals. The downfall of the chickens is directly influenced by decisions made in past generations. Both the Pynchoens and the chickens interbred in order to keep nobility in the family. The consequence of social isolation is represented in the chicken?s decay, a decay that surrounds the house. The interbreeding also represents how Colonel Pyncheon?s characteristics are recycled in every generation of the declining family. Judge Pyncheon is the latest reincarnation of the family?s arrogance and greed. During his search for the deed to Waldo County, the Judge unknowingly renews the curse.
Moreover, the house itself represents the false hope manifested by the Pyncheon?s past. Once Colonel Pyncheon builds the extravagant home, the Pyncheons begin
"to cherish, from generation to generation, an absurd delusion of family importance, which all along characterized the Pyncheons. It caused the poorest member of the race to feel as if he inherited a kind of nobility?this peculiarity through an ideal grace over the hard material of human life?" (10).
Although once a luxurious residence worthy of Pyncheon aristocrats, the house decays throughout generations. The house provides an illusion of present wealth, hope, and status, all of which influences the lives of present Pyncheons as they cling to the past. Yet, the house seems to be the source of the family?s misfortune. For Hepzibah and Clifford, the house becomes their prison; ?They descended the staircase together?Their hearts quaked within them at the idea of taking one step farther?They shrunk back into the dusky passageway, and closed the door?They could not flee...? (117). When Hepzibah and Clifford attempt to escape their incarceration, the dreary house has affected them too much to abandon their solitude. Hepzibah and Clifford have not experienced freedom from the house or its curse; they have never experienced ?the ocean of human life? (115).
Furthermore, the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon is symbolic of the ancestral evil that lurks and watches over the house. Clifford feels uncomfortable of the portrait?s watch, as if the portrait was a human presence; ??The old Puritan, who, out of his dingy gram and lusterless canvas, was looking down at the scene like a ghost, and a most ill-tempered and ungenial one? (76). Shortly after, Clifford, with a lot of energy, tells Hepzibah, ?Pray cover it with a crimson curtain? I cannot bear it! It must not stare me in the face? (76)! Like any decent Puritan leader, The Colonel?s portrait evokes guilt and fear in the viewer. The portrait remains in the house generations after the Colonel?s death to remind viewers of the cost of luxury; the death of both Colonel Pyncheon and Maule still hovers in the atmosphere. Hawthorne uses the portrait to directly represent the past?s influence on those living in the present. The painting is a curse of its own; the portrait, like the Colonel himself, bears greed. For years, the portrait concealed the deed to Waldo County, the deed that symbolized freedom for the imprisoned family. The presence of the ?evil genius? stirs trouble for the innocent relatives and hides the deed until it looses importance (76).
Finally, Judge Pyncheon?s death ends the search for the deed. Because the Judge was so similar to the Coronel, Hawthorne symbolically puts the past to rest. Hepzibah, Clifford, and Phoebe escape the bondage of the bleak house and