The House of the Seven Gables
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Contributed by Marinda Dreiling
Chapter 6
Summary

Maule’s Well: After an early tea, Phoebe goes into the garden, which had fallen into decay. There are vegetables which make Phoebe wonder who had planted them, for it was surely not Hepzibah. She looks at the hen-coop, where the only hens remaining are no larger than pigeons and move oddly. Their race had degenerated. Holgrave enters the garden as Phoebe is feeding the hens. He tells Phoebe that he makes pictures out of sunshine, and says that daguerreotypes bring out the secret character of a person that no painting could ever detect. There is no flattery in his art. He shows her a daguerreotype that she thinks is Colonel Pyncheon in modern dress. Phoebe mentions the miniature that Hepzibah showed her, and Holgrave asks Phoebe whether the person in that picture looks capable of committing a great crime. That night, Phoebe finds Hepzibah awake in the parlor. Phoebe hears Hepzibah murmur, a sound that is so vague that it seems to come from pure emotion. Hepzibah asks Phoebe to go to sleep, while she will stay awake to collect her thoughts.

Analysis

The garden in the House of the Seven Gables serves as an extended metaphor for the Pyncheon family. The rich soil of the garden has fallen into decay, while the antique and hereditary flowers that remain are in no flourishing condition. The flowers are now secondary to the vegetables that may be sold, an imposed system of capitalist necessity. The hens that remain are sickly and odd; when Hawthorne writes that their "race had degenerated, like many a noble race besides," he obviously associates the hens with their owners. Furthermore, these hens contain "the whole antiquity of its progenitors in miniature," just as contemporary Pyncheons replicate the qualities of Colonel Pyncheon.

In his conversation with Phoebe, Holgrave explicitly brings out the author’s themes concerning representation. He believes that his daguerreotypes bring out the hidden characteristics of their subjects. Significantly, Phoebe mistakes the daguerreotype of Judge Pyncheon for a picture of the Colonel. The two share an identical physical structure and temperament, foreshadowing events in the novel in which the Judge may attempt to grasp the Pyncheon legacy for which the Colonel had striven. This is complimented by the daguerreotype of Clifford Pyncheon; although Phoebe can find nothing dark and sinister in Hepzibah’s miniature of Clifford, Holgrave reminds her that he is a murderer. In accordance with the idea that these portraits reveal hidden qualities in their subjects, the lack of a threatening subtext in Clifford’s portrait should call into question whether the convicted murderer is actually a violent criminal, or even a murderer at all.

Hepzibah’s sigh demonstrates the great psychological anguish that exists along with a great abundance for love within the character. Hawthorne indicates that the two characteristics coincide with one another. The depression that Hepzibah feels exists largely because of her capacity to care for others. Indications that her beloved Clifford will return to the House of the Seven Gables seem to place the burden that Hepzibah feels on Clifford.

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