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MonkeyNotes-The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Chapter 2: "The Little Shop Window"

In this chapter, Hepzibah Pyncheon is introduced as an isolated sixty-year old spinster with a rigid frame and a permanent scowl on her face. Although she has a hard, cruel appearance, she is kind and gentle. Since she has financial difficulties, she decides she must re-open the "cent" shop that is located in the House of the Seven Gables but has been bolted closed for years. The shop, once again sparkling clean, offers flour, apples, candy, candles, soap, a few odds and ends, some household supplies, ginger bread figures, and marbles to attract little children. Hepzibah is ashamed of betraying the proud Pyncheon lineage and becoming such a petty shopkeeper.

Hawthorne interrupts the narrative to comment that it is not pleasant to present a "giant, sallow, and rusty joined maiden, in a long wasted silk gown", but he further explains that life is full of both joy and sorrow, of both the trivial and the elevated, and because of poetic insight, the reader is able to discern "the beauty and majesty which are compelled to assume a garb so sordid."


Notes

In this chapter the reader is introduced to Hepzibah, one of the few remaining members of the proud Pyncheon family, who has to step down to become a petty shopkeeper in order to support herself. It is significant that she is near-sighted, symbolic of the fact that she (like all the Pyncheons) has trouble seeing reality. It is also important to note that she is a reflection of the decline of the entire Pyncheon aristocracy.

Hepzibah is filled with contrast, with dark and light. Her face is a constant scowl and her frame is rigid, but her heart is kind and gentle. She is also extremely proud, but at the same time extremely fearful of opening the shop and breaking out of her isolation. With her strange appearance and clothing, the town judges her to be pathetic, but Hawthorne portrays the old woman sympathetically to the reader.

The chapter is ironically set early in the morning on the day that Hepzibah reluctantly opens her shop. Dawn is usually depicted as a time of freshness and new beginnings, but for Hepzibah, this day brings a demeaning task to her. She feels that running the shop is beneath her proud heritage. She is also fearful of again meeting the public. As Hepzibah, strangely depressed, opens the store filled with trinkets, there is a definite tragic sense about her.

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