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The House of the Seven Gables

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Preface

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Chapters 1–2

Summary

Hawthorne informs us that we are reading a “Romance,” a type of work that differs substantially from the traditional novel. Hawthorne claims that novels adhere closely to the framework of everyday circumstance. Romances, on the other hand, give the writer more freedom to present another version of truth, which may be enhanced with facets that transcend reality. Hawthorne tells us that this story is actually something of a mix between the two genres, but that it is primarily a romance. Hawthorne also states that his book exemplifies the moral that the sins of one generation will be passed on to future generations; he expresses his hope that he has not made the story too heavy-handed or moralistic. He concludes with a disclaimer that we are not to make too many associations between the places and characters in the story and any possible real-life counterparts.

Analysis

Hawthorne establishes The House of the Seven Gables as a definitive break with The Scarlet Letter, placing great emphasis on the elements of his work that make it a romance. He portrays the novel as a limited form that is required to remain true to life, whereas calling his work a romance frees him to dip into the fantastic and supernatural. Hawthorne also discards the notion that by saying that his story is a romance he must now present an unadulterated fantasy, for his narrative will retain the familiar style of a novel. Hawthorne gives himself the freedom to indulge in the mysticism necessary to chronicle a cursed family. If we have any objections to the hypnosis and spontaneous hemorrhages that will occur later in the novel, we can no longer hold Hawthorne accountable for our inability to suspend our disbelief. At the same time, by calling his novel a synthesis of the romance and the novel, Hawthorne can still ground his novel and its characters in the everyday life of New England.

Hawthorne is adamant that The House of the Seven Gables be understood as a work of fiction. Consequently, he devotes the final passage of the Preface to dispelling the notion that the novel is a critique of any actual place. Despite their lineage and prominence, Hawthorne says, the families in this novel are entirely of his own creation, although, in the case of individual characters, this may not actually have been so. The feuding ancestors, for example, were most likely inspired by actual participants in the infamous Salem witch trials of the 1690s, when many residents of the Puritan city of Salem, Massachusetts, were accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death, often without real trials. The menacing figure of Judge Pyncheon was probably loosely based on a politician who got Hawthorne fired from his customhouse job.

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