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. . . hinted that he was about to build his house over an unquiet
grave. . . . The terror and ugliness of Maule’s crime, and the wretchedness
of his punishment, would darken the freshly plastered walls, and
infect them early with the scent of an old and melancholy house.
By building his house on land stolen
from Matthew Maule, Colonel Pyncheon has purportedly cursed himself
and his family line for as long as they live in the house. This
passage from Chapter 1 illustrates how deeply
the curse and the house are intertwined. The crime is depicted as
actually affecting the house’s infrastructure—it works itself into
the house’s very fabric. These rumors are of course only murmurs
from the village gossips. Hawthorne makes sure to attribute the
speculation only to gossips, so that he will later remain free to
explore the notion that the Pyncheon family, rather than the house,
is responsible for the curse that plagues them.
The passage also sets up some of the book’s most important themes
and stylistic traits. First, it provides the groundwork for the idea
that each generation inherits the vices and misdeeds of its predecessors.
Hawthorne repeatedly links the many awful misfortunes of the Pyncheon
family to Colonel Pyncheon’s crimes. Hawthorne can make claims about
curses and haunted houses, as he does in the quotation above, because
by choosing to write a “romance” rather than a “novel” he has free
reign to combine the mystical and fantastical with the bloody truths
of reality. Hawthorne presents the disastrous results of sin as
strong enough to pervade both time and space: sin’s effects persist
centuries after Pyncheon’s wrongdoing, and they are severe enough
to stain the very walls of his family’s home. Hawthorne conveys
the intensity of sin’s effects with ominous eerie language characteristic
of the Gothic style in which he writes. Many words in the passage
above evoke this ominous tone, such as “grave,” “terror,” “ugliness,”
“wretchedness,” “darken,” “infect,” “old,” and “melancholy.”
Ace your assignments with our guide to The House of the Seven Gables!