The House of the Seven Gables: Novel Summary: Chapter 15

Chapter 15Summary: The days that follow in the House of the Seven Gables are bleak ones, accompanied by seemingly ghostly music from the harpsichord of Alice Pyncheon. Hepzibah decides the music must be being played by Clifford, even though she does not actually seem him playing the instrument and even though she can hardly imagine him capable of such activity.
One day, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon confronts Hepzibah in the cent-shop, demanding to see Clifford. He believes-just as Gervayse Pyncheon believed about Matthew Maule in Holgraves story-that Clifford possesses the secret needed for finding documents that will establish the Pyncheon familys claim to more eastern lands. Hepzibah accuses Jaffrey of being greedy, as the Colonel was before him: “Alas, Cousin Jaffrey, this hard and grasping spirit has run in our blood, these two hundred years.” Through their argument, readers confirm a comment Holgrave made in the previous chapter, learning that Jaffrey had something to do with Cliffords ruin years earlier. Although the exact circumstances are not yet revealed, we learn that Jaffrey had Clifford imprisoned. Jaffrey tells Hepzibah that it pained him to do so, but that he had no choice but to obey his duty as a magistrate. He even states that he is responsible for Cliffords recent freedom. Hepzibah, however, offers Jaffrey no forgiveness. Ultimately, he moves into the parlor, sits in an ancestral chair-the same chair in which, it is said, Colonel Pyncheon died-and waits for Hepzibah to summon her brother.
Analysis: Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, in this chapter, provides an extended object lesson in how appearances can be deceiving. The narrator goes to great lengths to suggest to his readers that the Judge is not the completely, morally upright and innocent person that he views himself to be, and that he wishes others to view him as. And even though society esteems the Judge as “a man of eminent respectability,” supposedly “beyond all question,” the narrator here raises just such questions, asking his readers if one moral lapse in the past must necessarily diminish a man in the present. The narrator even suggests that the Judge is subconsciously motivated by “a daily guilt.” Despite all outward appearances, the narrator decides that the Judges true character must be sought in the inmost recesses of his soul. It is a judgment consonant with the Puritan heritage of New England, and the theology of Hawthornes own upbringing. It condemns the “scale and balance” system of determining the guilt or praiseworthiness of a person, and refuses to allow people to delude themselves that they are, as we might say today, “basically good people.” It is a harsh judgment, fully in accord with the Puritan doctrine of total depravity-as we have seen, a doctrine that is of recurring thematic concern to the novel.