The House of the Seven Gables

by: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Clifford Pyncheon

Characters Clifford Pyncheon

Clifford is a complex character whose extended undeserved prison time makes him both unlikable and pitiable. His frequent bouts of weeping and his pitiable cries when the Judge approaches make him seem like a wounded or feeble animal. Clifford is a “sybarite,” someone who relishes natural beauty, luxury, and pleasure, which makes his incarceration seem all the more cruel and unbearable. Hawthorne makes luxuries seem more important to Clifford than food. He is also temperamental and brash, and despite his nearly imbecilic state, he still manages to be cruel to his adoring sister, even after three decades of separation. In the end, however, Clifford’s weaknesses convey the extent of his degradation. Prison has ruined him. A formerly beautiful, confident, and life-loving person, Clifford has become like a broken beast, cringing in fear as his persecutor passes. Hawthorne doesn’t make a martyr out of Clifford (someone who sacrifices himself for a cause greater than his own life), but he does not create a monster either. Instead, Hawthorne presents Clifford as a tragic victim of fate by balancing what Clifford has become against what he was before forces beyond his control led him to confinement and despair.