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Chapter 4: "A Day Behind The Counter"
As the chapter opens, Hepzibah is at the shop window attending to the little boy who wants candy. Glancing down the street, she sees Judge Pyncheon, an "elderly gentleman, large and portly, and of remarkably dignified demeans." She thinks he must have been a handsome man in his youth, but at present he seems cold and calculating. The Judge sees Hepzibah and "bows with a happy mixture of dignity and courteous kindliness, and pursues his way." This encounter disturbs Hepzibah, and she goes into the back parlor, where, on seeing the painting of her old ancestor, she is reminded again of her cousin Judge Pyncheon. She feels that this portrait of her ancestor is in sharp contrast to the face in the miniature painting that she holds so dear. The young face seems mild and cheerful as compared to the hard visage of the colonel.
The ringing of the bell disturbs Hepzibah's ruminations. This time it is Uncle Venner, an old person who runs errands and does odd jobs and who is considered to be the philosopher of the street. He lives in the workhouse and seems to like it. Having known Hepzibah since childhood, he talks familiarly to her. He also encourages her and tells her that the olden days, of kings and ladies, are now over. "Nowadays a man would not dare to be called king and if he feels a little above common folks, he only stoops so much lower to them." When he refers to Judge Pyncheon in a disparaging manner, Hepzibah dismisses his remarks by saying that if she chose to "earn bread" for herself, it is not Judge Pyncheon's fault." Before leaving, Uncle Venner asks her when "he" (meaning the Judge) would be coming. Seeing that Hepzibah is upset by the query, he does not pursue the matter further.
When the day is over and Hepzibah is closing the shop, she sees a gentleman and a young woman alight from a carriage. Hepzibah recognizes her as her young cousin who was staying in the country. She wonders why Phoebe had not informed her about her arrival. The fact is that Phoebe had written, but the postman had not delivered the letters to the Pyncheon House.
In this chapter the reader is introduced to Judge Pyncheon, Uncle Venner, and Phoebe. Judge Pyncheon is a cousin of Hepzibah, and he has inherited the house of the seven gables from his ancestors. His dignified demeanor and pleasant countenance give the impression that he is truly a gentleman with democratic inclinations. But Hepzibah feels hostility towards the Judge. The contrast between Hepzibah and the Judge is obvious. The Judge is a genial person who is in tune with the community and seemingly respects individuals. Hepzibah, on the other hand, has a constant scowl on her face, and her effort at trying to appear as a lady from gentility makes her seem pitifully arrogant. The Judge belongs to the outside world, whereas Hepzibah has lived a secluded life.
Uncle Venner, like Holgrave, is a representative of the American democratic outlook. He belongs to the people, and he fills a place "which would else have been vacant in the apparently crowded world." He embodies the spirit of the work ethic, and no job is too demeaning for him to do. Uncle Venner's consciousness of the dignity of labor is in sharp contrast with Hepzibah's feeling of shame about opening a shop.
The theme of appearance vs. reality is introduced in this chapter. The reader is given a glimpse of the Judge as he appears to be, kind, genial, and respectful. Later the veil of illusion will be torn away from the Judge, and the reader will be able to see the reality of him.
The seclusion, secretiveness, and isolation of Hepzibah is emphasized when Hawthorne reveals that her mail does not even reach her. The postman had kept Phoebe's letter to her for four days without delivering it. He had no other business on Pyncheon Street, so he chose not to go there.