The House of Seven Gables: Symbolism

Topics: Symbol, Symbolism, Nathaniel Hawthorne Pages: 7 (2694 words) Published: October 8, 1999
The House of Seven Gables: Symbolism

American Literature reflects life, and the struggles that we face during our existence. The great authors of our time incorporate life's problems into their literature directly and indirectly. The stories themselves bluntly tell us a story, however, an author also uses symbols to relay to us his message in a more subtle manner. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's book The House of Seven Gable's symbolism is eloquently used to enhance the story being told, by giving us a deeper insight into the author's intentions in writing the story. The book begins by describing the most obvious symbol of the house itself. The house itself takes on human like characteristics as it is being described by Hawthorne in the opening chapters. The house is described as "breathing through the spiracles of one great chimney"(Hawthorne 7). Hawthorne uses descriptive lines like this to turn the house into a symbol of the lives that have passed through its halls. The house takes on a persona of a living creature that exists and influences the lives of everybody who enters through its doors. (Colacurcio 113) "So much of mankind's varied experience had passed there - so much had been suffered, and something, too, enjoyed - that the very timbers were oozy, as with the moisture of a heart." (Hawthorne 27). Hawthorne turns the house into a symbol of the collection of all the hearts that were darkened by the house. "It was itself like a great human heart, with a life of its own, and full of rich and somber reminiscences" (Hawthorne 27). Evert Augustus Duyckinck agrees that "The chief perhaps, of the dramatis personae, is the house itself. From its turrets to its kitchen, in every nook and recess without and within, it is alive and vital." (Hawthorne 352) Duyckinck feels that the house is meant to be used as a symbol of an actual character, "Truly it is an actor in the scene"(Hawthorne 352). This turns the house into an interesting, but still depressing place that darkens the book in many ways. Hawthorne means for the house's gloomy atmosphere to symbolize many things in his book.

The house also is used to symbolize a prison that has darkened the lives of its inmates forever. The house is a prison because it prevents its inhabitants form truly enjoying any freedom. The inhabitants try to escape from their incarceration twice. Initially, as Phoebe and Clifford watch the parade of life in the street, Clifford "realizes his state of isolation from the ‘one broad mass of existence-one great life, - one collected body of mankind,' and he cannot resist the actual physical attempt to plunge down into the ‘surging stream of human sympathy'" (Rountree 101). Dillingham believes that "Hawthorne clearly describes Clifford's great need to become reunited with the world and hints that this reunion can be accomplished only by death" (Rountree 101). However, Clifford inevitably fails to win his freedom, and he returns to the solace of his prison house. Clifford and Hepzibah attempt once more to escape their captive prison, but the house has jaded them too much already (Rountree 102). This is apparent when

Hepzibah and her brother made themselves ready- as ready as they could, in the best of their old-fashion garments, which had hung on pegs, or been laid away in trunks, so long that the dampness and mouldy smell of the past was on them - made themselves ready, in their faded bettermost, to go to church. They descended the staircase together, … pulled open the front door, and stept across the threshold, and felt, both of them, as if they were standing in the presence of the whole world… Their hearts quaked within them, at the idea of taking one step further. (Hawthorne 169)

Hepzibah and Clifford are completely cut off from the outside world. They are like prisoners who after being jailed for decades return to find a world they do not know.(Rountree 101). Clifford is deeply saddened...

Cited: Indiana: Purdue UP, 1988.
Arac, Jonathan. "The House and the Railroad: Dombey and Son and The House of the
Seven Gables." The New England Quarterly volume LI (1978) : 3 - 22.
Colacurcio, Michael. "The Sense of an Author: The Familiar Life and Strange
Imaginings of Nathaniel Hawthorne." ESQ 103 (1981) : 113.
Ltd., 1970.
Erlich, Gloria. Family Themes and Hawthorne 's Fiction: The Tenacious Web. New
Jersey: Rutgers UP, 1984.
Kaul, A., ed. Hawthorne: A Collection of Critical Essays. New Jersey :
Prentice - Hall Inc., 1966.
Rountree, Thomas, ed. Critics on Hawthorne. Florida: U of Miami P, 1972.
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