The House of the Seven Gables: Novel Summary: Chapter 16

Summary: Hepzibah, in great trepidation, goes to Cliffords room to tell him that Jaffrey wants to see him. On her way, she passes through the room where Holgrave is staying. She does not find him there, but she does find his photographic portrait of Jaffrey, and feels that fate is staring her “in the face.” Hepzibah knocks on Cliffords door. He does not answer. When Hepzibah enters his room, she finds that Clifford is gone. She wonders if her brother, being aware that Jaffrey was present, somehow managed to slip out of the House undetected; then she fears that, surrounded as the town is by water, Clifford has thrown himself into the sea to be “forever beyond his kinsmans gripe.” She runs downstairs, calling for Jaffrey to help her find Clifford. But Jaffrey does not answer her, either. Clifford is downstairs, as if waiting for Hepzibah, and he seems “driven. to absolute insanity.” He tells her, “[W]e can sing, laugh, play, do what we will! The weight is gone!” He indicates that Hepzibah should look in the parlor where Jaffrey was waiting. Hepzibah, “seized with a sudden intuition of some horrible thing,” does so-and is terrified at what she sees. It is a scene the narrator does not relate to the readers. Hepzibahs immediate concern is what will happen to she and her brother. Clifford, seemingly unconcerned and claiming to be more alive and awake than ever before, has thrown on a cloak and beckons for Hepzibah to leave the House with him. Grasping wildly at any purpose offered to her, Hepzibah dons her cloak as well and follows Clifford from the House, leaving Jaffrey-in whatever state he might be; the narrator tells readers only that the Judge is now “nothing better than a defunct nightmare”-behind.
Analysis: Similar to Holgrave in Chapter 14, Hepzibah, as this chapter opens, senses “something unprecedented, at that instant passing, and soon to be accomplished.” The narrative is nearing its climactic point. Certainly, this chapter is one of the dramatic highpoints of the story to date, perhaps even more dramatic than the younger Matthew Maules “bewitchment” of Alice Pyncheon in Holgraves short story. The chapter begins at a leisurely enough pace, as the narrator takes readers inside Hepzibahs troubled mind for several pages, tracing the complexity of her anxious thought as she travels no further than upstairs; but then she returns downstairs and discovers Jaffrey in whatever state he might be, and the plot immediately gathers speed. Jaffrey is dead, readers can only assume, although the text does not explicitly state it (appropriate for a text in which very few clear statements about death and life, but many about the intermingling of the two, have been made); and, possibly, murdered by Clifford (about whose moral character, readers will recall, Holgrave raised doubts as far back as Chapter 6), although all such speculation at this point remains just that, unsupported by any comment from the narrator. The chapter thus demonstrates that Hawthornes narrative skill. What has been a leisurely unfolding of a mystery suddenly becomes an action-filled plot as the “two owls” (as the title of the next chapter calls them) of Hepzibah and Clifford at last-for the first time in the entire novel-leave the House of the Seven Gables and flee into the larger world, the world that Clifford almost plunged into from the upstairs window.