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SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The House of the Seven Gables is an old house in Salem, Massachusetts. It was built on a plot of land owned by Matthew Maule. Colonel Pyncheon took the land from Maule by unfair means and built a huge house with seven gables there. On the day when he was celebrating the completion of the house, he died in a sudden and strange way--with blood on his throat. People believed that this was a fulfillment of the curse that Matthew Maule had uttered when he was hanged at the gallows. He had said "God hath given him blood to drink."
The novel concentrates on the fortunes of the Pyncheon family. The present day occupants of the house are portrayed as completely defeated and demoralized persons. Hepzibah is an old, ill-tempered individual who finds herself forced to open a small cent shop in the face of growing impoverishment. Clifford, her brother who was imprisoned for thirty long years for a crime he did not commit, is a broken man on the verge of insanity. The third Pyncheon, Judge Jaffrey, is a man of the world, wealthy and powerful, and very much respected by the members of the community. He is regarded as a prospective candidate for governorship. Still another Pyncheon who arrives at the house is Phoebe. She is a pretty, sunny, genial person, and the heroine of the novel. Having descended from the collateral branch of the family, she comes to the house from the farm on which she grew up, and her arrival brings about a reversal in the fortunes of the Pyncheon family. The final important character in the book is Holgrave, who occupies one of the gables and is a descendant of Matthew Maule, the old enemy of the Pyncheons. Holgrave is an artist, and he and Phoebe fall in love.
The major theme of the novel is that sin has its retribution. Old Matthew Maule had cast a curse on the Pyncheon family because the old Colonel, in his greed, had appropriated the land on which the house of the seven gables was built. Judge Pyncheon dies in the same manner as his ancestor, while trying to acquire land by unfair means.
Since the novel concerns two artists, Clifford and Holgrave, the minor theme of the novel is appearance versus reality. This theme is developed in the dual character of the Judge who looks genial and kind but in reality is motivated by greed and power. This theme is also developed in the character of Hepzibah who, with her wizened appearance, myopic eyesight, and scowl, seems menacing but in reality is a kind and gentle soul who does not want to harm anybody.
The initial Mood (in the first few chapters) is one of somber seriousness. In the later chapters, with the entrance of Phoebe, the Mood becomes light and sunny.
The theme and plot are constructed in the form of sentimental novel. It combines Gothic sensibilities with the format usually employed by nineteenth century sentimental novels. Even though the novel begins on a sinister dark note with a description of the curse, it ends on a happy note with the marriage of the two main characters and a promise of happiness for the others.