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

The House of the Seven Gables is the central organizing symbol of this novel. It stands for the Pyncheon family as a whole: the Pyncheon family’s fight with Matthew Maule, the past, and the Pyncheon family’s evil fate. 

Born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a descendant of one Judge Hathorne who had been a member of the tribunal that sentenced 20 people to death for witchcraft in 1692. As readers of The House of the Seven Gables will soon discover, the family history loomed large in Hawthorne’s mind. He was raised as a strict Puritan, leaving the young Hawthorne with a vivid sense of the total depravity of a fallen and sinful humanity-a theme that surfaces time and again in his work. Indeed, "much of Hawthorne’s fiction made his readers rethink and reexamine the Puritan past" (Hans P. Guth and Gabriele L. Rico, Discovering Literature, Compact Edition; Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000; p. 187). Such reexamination encompassed both Puritanism’s negative and positive legacies.

 Part of Hawthorne’s personal coming to terms with his family’s historical and theological legacy involved his experimentation at Brook Farm, a progressive commune that attracted many of the brightest thinkers of Hawthorne’s day. After about six months, however, he found that he did not fully embrace the idealistic, optimistic, transcendentalist stance of this community.

Hawthorne and his wife Sophia-upon whom many critics speculate the character of Phoebe in The House of the Seven Gables may be modeled-settled in Salem in 1842, where Hawthorne resumed his previously unsuccessful efforts to support himself as a writer. And although he did have to take a job as surveyor at Salem’s port, his literary fortunes also fared better. His novel The Scarlet Letter (1850) is still considered a foundational masterpiece of American literature. The House of the Seven Gables followed in 1851. Other novels and short stories succeeded these two masterpieces. Additionally, he served as consul in Liverpool, England because of his connection-college friend-to President Franklin Pierce. Another of Hawthorne’s notable friends was Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick; in fact, Melville dedicated the novel to Hawthorne.

Hawthorne died in 1864 while on a mountain trip with Franklin Pierce.

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