Use of Symbolism in Hawthorne's the House of Seven Gables Term Paper

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symbolism in literature. Author Nathan Hawthorne used many symbolism opportunities in his works the House of Seven Gables. The writer of this paper explores the symbolism and comments on its effectiveness.


Throughout history, the authors of literary works have used symbolism to develop a story or create an understanding. Many of the classics are filled with symbolism, and it is that very symbolism that causes the story to stick in the reader's mind and heart and make the story a classic. In The House of Seven Gables the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne displayed a particularly subtle talent at lacing the story with symbolism for the reader to stumble upon in his journey. Through the use of symbols, we are given the opportunity to view many aspects of the story from a third vantage point, and one that makes it clear for us to understand. The symbolism in House of Seven Gables, works to unite the ideas and emotions that run through the book's underpinnings and brings the reader to the same mindset the author had as he penned the words. The use of symbolism in this story creates the ability to develop the character of the story itself and bring it to its three dimensional existence.

Before we can fully understand the use of symbolism and its importance in the book, we first must have a clear idea about the story's basis and conclusion. The House of Seven Gables is a book that tells of family beliefs, societal understandings, and the full power that the fear of witches had on society at the time of the story. Colonel Pyncheon dies and it is immediately suspected that there was a spell cast upon his new mansion, in which he was holding the housewarming party when he died. The Salem Witch hunts were revived in the minds of those involved and theories abounded as to why the colonel dropped dead. Because the colonel had acquired the house from one of those hung during the witch-hunts, it is speculated that the dying man cursed him. Witnesses remembered his screaming that God would give the colonel blood to drink.

"Colonel Pycheon's sudden and mysterious end made a vast deal of noise that day. There were many rumors, some of which drifted down to present about appearances indicating violence and how there were finger marks at his throat" (Hawthorne pg 9).

When the colonel died so suddenly it was speculated that he might have died from the very curse the witnesses said the burning former owner cast on him. It was believed in general that the colonel expedited and supported the persecution of the owner so that he would be killed and the colonel could acquire his home. Fast forward and Hepzibah Pyncheon resides in the house and a young relative comes to stay with her. This young girl, Phoebe, is lively and upbeat and she seems to bring the dismal house to life again. The house turns into a boarding house and through the many events that follow the curse is lifted and the families stop their fighting and become friends and loved ones again.

Hawthorne seems to be trying to get a message to the world about the inherited problems we face. This story produces the understanding that we are force to deal with our forbearer's lives and consequential actions. The underlying moral of the story, through the symbolisms we see is that we should not be so eager to force our lives and values on future generations, because we have no idea how that will affect their life (Newhall, 59).

Hawthorne is well-known as one of the first to use symbolism in his works, and turn the works into engaging puzzles of meaning. The use of symbolism in this story begins at the house itself. The house is made of wood but it also has many vines and plants growing up the outside of its foundation. The use of wood symbolizes the almost living quality of the house itself. The outside plants allow the reader to view the house as being choked, as the family who lives in the house is being choked as well. The choking is so efficient that the gables have moss and plants growing between them and through the rotting roof. This is used as a symbol to the dying of the home and all that it has held within its walls for hundreds of years. The house is put forth in the same manner that a sick and dying man would be. The cancer has spread, the body (house) is rotting and it is soon to be over.

The writer refers to the house as a prison, and this symbolizes the reaction of those who live in the house to the outside world. The inhabitants are not free to escape the house. It consumes then with its dark nature and its rotting character. An attempted escape by Clifford is even symbolic of the inmate mentality that the house residents share amongst themselves.

The age-old symbolism of light and dark are abundant in this book. The family home is filled with dark and gloomy heirlooms and the walls are dark as well. There is no light in the house as it symbolizes the many years of downtrodden existence that the family has endured following the curse laid on them by the witch hunt victim many years before.

The likes and dislikes of the books characters is also evidence of the use of symbolism. Phoebe loves to garden. She enjoys the feel of dirt between her fingers and loves to toil and make things grow. This goes in keeping with her sunny and naturally optimistic personality. The love of fresh growth is symbolic of the love of life and new awareness. The rest of the family ignores the garden for the most part and this symbolizes their inability or lack of desire to come alive. They have been in the dark for so many years they are not sure how to feel alive again and the garden is a perfect example of life vs. death and darkness.

"It is not only the impression of Judge Pyncheon that possesses a dual nature of light and dark, but the impression and portrait of nearly all the other characters. After Holgrave leaves Phoebe in the garden, she considers the "impression" of the daguerreotypist: "the impression left on her mind was that of gravity, and except as his youth modified it, almost sternness" (70). As with the daguerreotype, Phoebe's perception of Holgrave fails to fully comprehend the dark aspects of his nature - she sees him as almost stern. To use Davidson's terminology, her perception depends upon how she "tilts" the dual image (681). The ambiguous nature of Phoebe's impression of Holgrave is illustrative of how the other characters in the novel are also depicted. In the chapter "The Arched Window," for example, Hawthorne frames Phoebe and Clifford in the window and, in effect, fashions a portrait, making "a sight worth seeing as any that the city could exhibit" (121). The words used to depict Clifford are paradoxical; he is "pale, gray, childish, aged, melancholy, yet often simply cheerful, and sometimes delicately intelligent . . ." (121). Again, the image is double, giving the light as well as the dark (Noble, 25). "


We have known for many years that authors use symbolism to further illustrate the point of their works. In the House of Seven Gables however, we are drawn to an unusual amount of symbolism as we turn the pages and read the story. The darkness vs. light is a symbolic practice of literature for many years however when Hawthorne wrote the story symbolism was a relatively new idea. His use of Phoebe's bright and…[continue]

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