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Who would you
say is the principal protagonist of The House of the Seven
Gables? Who is the principal antagonist?
The House of the Seven Gables does
not have one obvious protagonist like Holden Caulfield in The
Catcher in the Rye or Hamlet in Hamlet. Instead,
many of the novel’s characters grow and change throughout the novel,
all contributing to the plot development. Holgrave fits this description,
though his change is somewhat peripheral, almost an afterthought
Hawthorne rushes through in the final chapters. Phoebe blossoms
into womanhood, becoming wiser as she grows older, but when she
arrives at the Pyncheon homestead, she is so removed from the events
of the house that the story really cannot be called hers. Hepzibah
and Clifford, on the other hand, are rooted in the house’s tradition
of misery, and the story focuses extensively on their transition
from living in fear and constraint to more sustained happiness and
freedom. They are the best examples of protagonists that we meet
in The House of the Seven Gables.
The antagonists—the characters or forces who oppose the
protagonist and create conflict—are less obvious. Although the menacing
Judge Pyncheon provides the clearest conflict and is the most likely
antagonist, he is in some ways no more responsible for the troubles
of Clifford and Hepzibah than any Pyncheon ancestor. He is certainly
the novel’s most tangible villain, but his close ties to the portrait
of Colonel Pyncheon make him seem more of a figurehead for past
evils than an independent operator. Because the Judge’s actions
move the novel and drive it forward, we could even consider him
the novel’s main protagonist. In naming him the protagonist, we
should keep in mind that he stands for 200 years
of tainted -Pyncheon history.
In the Preface,
Hawthorne claims his book is a romance rather than a novel. Romances
need not deal with “everyday, ordinary things” and usually incorporate fantastic
elements. Do you think that The House of the Seven Gables is
more of a romance or a novel? Should it be classified as another
The House of the Seven Gables is,
in fact, a skillful blending of both narrative approaches. The book
contains some fantastic elements, but most of these never stray
far from reality. Two scenes—the two Maule ghosts restraining the
spirit of Colonel Pyncheon and the ghosts parading in front of the
dead Judge—are too fantastical to have actually occurred, but one
is presented as a vision of Alice Pyncheon’s and the other as speculation
on the narrator’s part. The hypnotic powers of the young Matthew
Maule and Holgrave are certainly eerie and mystical, but hypnosis
does exist, and therefore these scenes are not entirely fantastical.
While The House of the Seven Gables does not belong
to the horror genre, it does incorporate many elements of horror,
sharing with the horror genre the realization that the greatest
shock value can be created by making things too horrible to be true
but not so awful that they can’t be believed. By straddling the
line between the romance and the novel, and by refusing to commit
entirely to any genre, Hawthorne makes his work shocking but also
thought-provoking. He creates a work of fiction that entertains
and teaches with a fantastical plot that is also rich with literary
and historical themes.
role of “fate” in the novel. How much of the Pyncheons’ bad luck
is caused by fate, and how much results from their own actions and
At the beginning of The House of
the Seven Gables, fate is believed to direct the fortunes
of Hepzibah and Clifford. The novel indulges this belief with its
graphic descriptions of a curse that has worked itself into the
very walls of the house. As the story progresses, however, we begin
to wonder if other elements are not also at work. Holgrave’s revolutionary
doctrine of tearing down the houses of the dead implies that Clifford
and Hepzibah become complicit in their persecution by being passive.
They accept the cruelty they are handed with a meekness that borders
on irresponsibility. The rest of the Pyncheons also appear to be
partly responsible for their own bad luck: Maule’s curse seems to
affect only those who are driven by excessive ambition and greed,
while the more docile members of the family seem to lead happy lives.
To a certain extent, the novel does put a lot of stock in fate,
which is demonstrated by its eloquent passages depicting the house
as an inescapable prison. Nonetheless, the story also suggests repeatedly
that fate is simply another obstacle to overcome, and that our ultimate
destiny always remains ours to determine.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The House of the Seven Gables!