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MonkeyNotes-The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Chapter 18: "Governor Pyncheon"

In this chapter, Hawthorne philosophizes about the moral depravity of the Judge, almost with excitement. The duality of Judge Pyncheon is shown, not through his actions, but through the narrator's imagination and comments on what probably would have been his normal appointments. Through the Judge's imaginary schedule, Hawthorne reveals that the deceased was an important personage in the community. But the idea that he acts on behalf of the community is an illusion. In reality, everything that the Judge did was not done for the betterment of humanity but directed by his own greed and lust for power. The Judge seems to have hidden his private face from the public, and it is only his close relations who have an inkling of his true nature.

The use of the Judge's watch is a symbol of time as it ticks away and records each of the appointments he has missed. Outwardly, the Judge is a punctual, genial, philanthropic person, and his death is a loss to the community. But the reader knows that selfish interests motivated each of his public actions.


Notes

Hawthorne's intention in this chapter is to show the duality of the Judge's nature in all its aspects. The ticking of the clock is symbolic of time taking its toll, and Hawthorne seems to mock the Judge when he writes about his wasted efforts: "Make haste, then! Do your part! The need for which you have toiled and fought, and climbed and crept, is ready for your grasp . . . you rise up from the table, virtually governor of the state . . . why do you sit so lumpishly in your great grandfather's oaken chair, as if preferring it to the gubernatorial one?" Ironically, death, the great leveler, has robbed Judge Pyncheon of the glory and power for which he has strived all his life. His death holds a moral lesson for the rest of humanity: live today to its fullest rather than storing up treasures or dreams for tomorrow.

It is important to note that Judge Pyncheon dies underneath the portrait of the Colonel and sits in the same chair that the Colonel had occupied. Like the Colonel, the Judge also dies while in pursuit of wealth and power. It is particularly appropriate that he also dies in the House of the Seven Gables, the symbol of isolation and forgotten aristocracy. The Judge, who seemed a vital part of humanity, was not actually so.

Chapter 19: "Alice's Posies"

Five days later Pyncheon Street holds a more pleasant look. Nature seems to have made amends, because every object was "agreeable," and it would have been enough to "live merely to look up at the wide benediction of the sky." The Pyncheon elm "was all alive, and full of the morning sun, and a sweetly tempered breeze....lingered within this verdant sphere, and set a thousand leafy tongues a-whispering all at once." Even the house seemed to have an "inviting aspect."

The reader is brought to the street. All the people who have frequented the cent-shop and with whom the reader is already acquainted are brought center stage. Each of them speculates about the silence of the house and the fate of its inhabitants. A cab draws up and stops near the Pyncheon elm. Phoebe steps out. Even though there is the "quiet glow of natural sunshine over her," the intervening weeks seemed to have changed Phoebe. She has become "more womanly" and "deeper eyed in token of a heart that had suspected its depths." Hawthorne speculates about whether her presence will drive away the "Phantoms" that haunt the house or whether she herself would be affected and "fade, sicken, sadden, and grow into depravity." Phoebe, surprised at the silence and eeriness of the house, enters cautiously; no sooner had she entered "than the door closed behind her."

Notes

Again the imagery of nature has been used to denote significance in this chapter. The storm has passed (just like Maule's curse has passed), and everything seems brighter. Nature has smiled on Pyncheon Street, and Alice's garden has started flowering. Even the giant elm is flush with foliage. A single branch of the tree "had been transmuted into gold," a reference to Book VI of Virgil's Aeneid, where a golden bough admits Aeneas to the underworld of the dead, where his father shows him the splendid company of the men who are to become their great Roman descendants. The golden branch of the elm tree indicates that the evil of the curse has been satisfied with the death of Judge Pyncheon and foreshadows the future brightness of the union between Holgrave and Phoebe.

The house, which thus far has symbolized gloom and dreariness, is now transformed as well. Hawthorne, by showing the house in a new light, reveals that the earlier view of the house was illusory: "So little faith is due to external appearance, that there was really an inviting aspect over the venerable edifice." Thus, Hawthorne prepares the reader for the happy close of the novel. The cycle of sin and retribution is complete, and with the closing of the door after Phoebe (who symbolizes geniality and goodness), it seems as if the inhabitants of the house will at last find happiness.

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