The House of the Seven Gables

by: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Judge Pyncheon

Judge Pyncheon is the novel’s most visible antagonist. An antagonist is a character or impediment that opposes the protagonist and creates conflict in a literary work. Judge Pyncheon provides a living example of the cruelty and ambition that have brought the Pyncheon family such misfortune. His most noteworthy feature is his deceiving smile, which is so alluring that it almost has a personality of its own. Despite his welcoming countenance, the Judge’s true nature is overwhelmingly greedy. The Judge appears to agree with the popular perception that he is innocent and righteous, but these perceptions differ sharply from what Hawthorne suggests to us. The Judge’s ties to the dubious Pyncheon past are unmistakable, most clearly revealed by his resemblance to Colonel Pyncheon’s portrait and by his death from apoplexy, a sudden hemorrhage, which killed both the Colonel and the Judge’s Uncle Jaffrey. In the public’s perception, the Judge is a model of austerity and morality, and Hawthorne devotes much of the novel to unveiling the dark truths that such popular perceptions hide. Only the truly good characters—such as Phoebe, Clifford, and Hepzibah—recognize that the Judge’s alluring smile hides a cruel soul. The Judge’s death seems to put an end to the Pyncheon legacy of misfortune.