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man will commit almost any wrong—he will heap up an immense pile
of wickedness, as hard as granite, and which will weigh heavily
upon his soul, to eternal ages—only to build a great, gloomy, dark-chambered
mansion, for himself to die in, and for his posterity to be miserable
in. He lays his own dead corpse beneath the underpinning, as one
may say, and hangs his frowning picture on the wall, and, after
thus converting himself into an Evil Destiny, expects his remotest great-grandchildren
to be happy there!”
This dialogue, spoken by Clifford in
Chapter 17, neatly sums up the “moral” of The
House of the Seven Gables, which states that the sins committed
over the course of constructing a family fortune will bring the
sinner and the sinner’s descendants more misery than wealth. In
identifying the builder of the house as the cause of the misery
the house has perpetuated, Clifford leaves no doubt that Colonel
Pyncheon is to blame for the family’s misfortunes, and that his
unchecked desire to accumulate wealth has brought him misery instead.
This passage insinuates that the Colonel may not be motivated exclusively
by selfish greed. The idea that the Colonel may have built the house
“for his posterity to be miserable in” is certainly a pessimistic
interpretation, but it raises the idea that the Colonel acts with
future generations in mind. Obviously, the Colonel’s intentions
go horribly awry, but the generous notion that he is building for
someone other than himself does give him a glimmer of paternal appeal
and serves as a testament to Hawthorne’s willingness to lend even
the most villainous characters a touch of moral ambiguity.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The House of the Seven Gables!