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MonkeyNotes-The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Chapter 16: "Clifford's Chamber"

Hepzibah is upset by her meeting with the Judge and remembers all the stories associated with the dreary past of the family. "It weighed upon her heart." As demanded by the Judge, she reluctantly goes to call Clifford. But Hepzibah "could not rid herself of the sense of something unprecedented, at that instant passing, and soon to be accomplished." For a fleeting moment she wonders whether Clifford really does know about the secrets of the family fortune, but she dismisses the thought immediately because Clifford has "none but shadowy gold at his command," and that will not satisfy Judge Pyncheon.

When she enters his chamber, Hepzibah finds Clifford missing. In her panic over his absence, her imagination runs wild with possibilities. She repeatedly searches everywhere to no avail and finally raises an alarm about his absence. Hepzibah then goes to look for Holgrave, but he too is not in his room. She throws open the parlor door and says, "Help Jaffrey Pyncheon. Some harm will happen to him." All she sees is the Judge sitting in an armchair "near the centre of the floor with his face somewhat averted and looking towards a window." Repeatedly she addresses the Judge and informs him of Clifford's absence. The Judge remains unmoved.

At this moment, Clifford appears from inside the room "preternaturally pale" and unnaturally exhilarated. Even though her brother is "all in a tremor and a quake from head to foot," he still seems filled with mirth. She also notices that Clifford has on a cloak, "a garment of long ago," as if he were surrounding himself with the past. Clifford then shows her that Judge Pyncheon is dead, and at his instigation both of them flee from the house leaving the corpse behind.


Notes

This chapter highlights various aspects of the house and reminds us of Maule's curse. The Judge, sitting in Clifford's armchair, is surrounded by the darkness of the room, with the portrait of the old Colonel and the Pyncheon map ironically prominent. The Judge has always looked like the old Colonel, and now he has also died like him while seeking the Pyncheon wealth, symbolized in the map. Hawthorne is unmerciful in his description of the deceased. The Judge's corpse is "lumpish, nothing better than a defunct nightmare, which had perished in the midst of its wickedness, and left its flabby corpse on the breast of the tormented one to be gotten rid of as it might."

When Clifford urges Hepzibah to flee, he refers to the Judge as cutting an absurd figure. He asks her to hurry, for he fears the Judge "will start up like Giant Despair in pursuit of Christian and Hopeful and catch us yet." This is an allusion to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, a Puritan allegory of the soul's search for salvation. Christian and Hopeful escape from Giant Despair's dungeon by means of Promise, a key which can open any lock in Doubting Castle. Likewise Hepzibah and Clifford escape from the house that has been their prison; they leave behind Giant Despair (Judge Pyncheon and the illusory aristocratic past). Their salvation lies outside the house.

Chapter 17: "The Flight of Two Owls"

Hepzibah follows Clifford out of the house seemingly not of her own volition. She has lost the "faculty of self guidance." When the brother and sister emerge from the dismal and dreary atmosphere of the house, they are not noticed by the passersbys. They reach a railroad station and begin a journey by train. Safely on the train, Clifford tells her, "Here we are in the world, Hepzibah!--in the midst of life--in the throngs of our fellow- beings! Let you and I be happy!" Thus, Clifford makes his second attempt to be a part of humanity; but Hepzibah fears that he has simply gone mad.

On the train, he engages in conversation with a fellow passenger. He denounces the evils that surround one's roof and hearthstone and urges their destruction by fire. He also speaks of the advantages of progress, symbolized by the railroads. "They give us rings; they annihilate the toil and dust of pilgrimage; they spiritualize travel!" He excitedly talks about the vitalizing power of electricity and also expounds theories about mesmerism and spiritualism. Clifford's new acquaintance seems bewildered and ironically remarks, "I can't see through you." When they reach the end of their journey, Hepzibah, on an isolated train platform, lifts her hands to the dull, gray sky and begins to pray.

Notes

The fight of Clifford and Hepzibah is not a flight from guilt. It is a flight from the past and its curses. The death of Judge Pyncheon symbolizes the end of Maule's curse and their leaving the dark, isolated house to join the throng of humanity signifies the fact that the curse will not affect them. Hawthorne, however, does not want them to be instantly changed nor totally uninvolved in the family fortunes. Long standing fears and isolation cannot be dropped by just stepping out of the house. To portray this, Hawthorne again uses nature imagery. He says that the passerbys did not notice them because they were just a part of the "dismal and bitter weather." The sun, which has always been a symbol of rejuvenation, is "shining on them, but they melted into the gray gloom, and were forgotten as soon as they were gone."

Clifford's talk and forays into the realms of knowledge are confused and unreal. Hepzibah too has a feeling of "indistinctness and unreality." Again the theme of appearance versus reality is developed. The stranger's comment, "I can't see through you," is ironic because the reader can see through him. Clifford, despite his forced happiness and geniality, remains unchanged. His years of isolation from humanity cannot be wiped away by one trip to the outside world. Even though Judge Pyncheon is dead, Maule's curse is still at work on him. Escape and change for Clifford him must come from within for it to be real.

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