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The House of the Seven Gables

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Summary Chapters 11–12
Summary Chapters 11–12

Holgrave’s diatribe in Chapter 12 allows Hawthorne to give voice to contemporary philosophy that transforms the house of the seven gables into a metaphor for society. When Holgrave touts some of the Transcendentalist ideas to which Hawthorne himself was exposed, he stresses the importance of renewal, arguing that society is based on the views of “Dead Men”—a rather chilling way of arguing that New England culture is based on stale ideas. Holgrave’s argument that what is important is to rebuild with each succeeding generation is of unmistakable relevance to the Pyncheons, still haunted by a curse generations old. Holgrave’s statement could even suggest that Matthew Maule’s curse has become a handy excuse for the misery of the Pyncheon family. Until now, for the most part, Hepzibah and Clifford have seemed to be helpless prisoners of an ancient evil, but Holgrave’s politics assign them a degree of agency, and it becomes somewhat harder to sympathize with their sufferings when we realize that their problems could disappear once they left the Pyncheon homestead. Of course, The House of the Seven Gables is a romance, and in previous pages, including the incident where Hepzibah and Clifford are unable to go to church, Hawthorne has presented circumstances as being beyond their control. Holgrave nevertheless offers a very different perspective, and for a brief moment the story of the house seems to stand for our own inability to deal with the problems around us and our unwillingness to even try.