The House of the Seven Gables
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Contributed by Marinda Dreiling
Chapter 7
Summary

The Guest: Phoebe awoke and found Hepzibah already in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. She and Phoebe prepare food, despite Hepzibah’s lack of a natural inclination for cookery. While they prepare food, there is a constant tremor in Hepzibah’s frame, a powerful agitation that seemed an ecstasy of delight, but Hepzibah also shrank into sorrow at times. Hepzibah tells Phoebe that Clifford is coming, and that he will need the great joy that Phoebe can provide. That night, Clifford arrives at the house. He approaches it with the gait of a man who can barely walk. Hepzibah leads him into the house by the hand, and when Clifford sees Phoebe he becomes more cheerful. Phoebe realizes that this must be the person in Hepzibah’s miniature. Clifford notices Hepzibah’s furrowed brow and wonders whether she is angry at him, but when he hears her voice he realizes that she has nothing but love for him. To Hepzibah Clifford seemed to be by his nature a Sybarite. He had a love and a need for the beautiful, and having been jailed for so long, he rejoiced at any opportunity for beauty, such as visage of Phoebe. Clifford panics upon seeing the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon, and begs Hepzibah to cover it. He suggests to Hepzibah that they not live in the dismal house, but go to Europe. When Clifford learns that Hepzibah has opened a shop, he bursts into tears. He finally falls asleep in his chair. While he sleeps, Hepzibah peruses his face, but soon feels guilty for doing so.

Analysis

The beginning of this chapter establishes the routine within the House of the Seven Gables before Clifford’s reappearance. Phoebe has made herself an integral part of the house, while even Hepzibah forces herself into the routine of a working woman, even though cooking and running a shop are against her nature. However, upon Clifford’s impending arrival, Hepzibah becomes agitated, for she has waited for the moment for years and now fears that Clifford will be repulsed by her aged scowl and the state of disarray within the House of the Seven Gables.

Hawthorne portrays Clifford as a man who barely exists, much like Hepzibah. He no longer is part of society and has no possessions. He returns to the House of the Seven Gables, which was to be his inheritance, as a guest, as the title of the chapter notes. When he approaches the door, it seems like he does not have the physical strength to walk, and his speech is perfunctory and ill-defined, as if he were merely going through the motions of interaction with Hepzibah and Phoebe. Just as poverty has taken its toll on Hepzibah, decades in prison have reduced Clifford to a fragile state. Yet Clifford demonstrates this fragility through extremes of emotion. While Hepzibah is now dulled by experience, Clifford can only have experiences that are great pains or great pleasures. Even a cup of coffee causes Clifford to enter a state of hysterical pleasure. Clifford responds most intensely to beauty, whether in a vase of flowers or in his cousin Phoebe. Hawthorne demonstrates the other extremes of emotion that Clifford feels when he sees the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon. The portrait induces a feeling of near physical pain, and he demands to have it hidden. This aversion to the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon also serves as a reminder of the Pyncheon past. Before he was sent to prison, it was Clifford who best realized the sins of Colonel Pyncheon and who attempted to make amends to the descendants of Matthew Maule. This therefore sets the stage for a confrontation between Clifford, who wishes to make reparations for the family’s checkered history, and other Pyncheons who represent Colonel Pyncheon’s point of view.

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