The House of the Seven Gables

by: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Phoebe Pyncheon

The name Phoebe derives from the Greek word “phoibos,” which means “shining.” Phoebe is therefore an appropriate name for a character who brings the only rays of light into the somber Pyncheon home. At times, Phoebe literally brings a breath of fresh air into the house, throwing open her windows, rearranging her room, and coaxing the garden back to health and beauty from its state of decay and disarray. Phoebe’s good nature is bolstered by a strong sense of moral judgment and wisdom. Within the novel’s morally ambiguous maelstrom, Phoebe emerges as a voice of reason. Holgrave makes the mistake of thinking he can read her like a book and is subsequently forced to retract this condescending view. Phoebe continues to surprise us by showing great strength and moral fortitude, unlike many of the other corruptible and malicious characters who pervade the novel. After the Judge’s death, for example, Phoebe enters the eerie confines of the house, and later argues that witnesses should be called, despite Holgrave’s feverish protest. Phoebe has the courage to resist her own heart and to endure being dismayed by Holgrave’s first proposal—she forces the man she loves to change rather than changing herself to suit him.