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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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The House of the Seven Gables!