The House of the Seven Gables: Novel Summary: Chapter 3

Summary: Hepzibahs first customer arrives: Mr. Holgrave, the lodger in the House of the Seven Gables. He has come to wish her well and to buy his breakfast (which Hepzibah, still wishing to consider herself a gentlewoman, gives him for free). Holgrave attempts to persuade Hepzibah that reopening the house store is a courageous act, but Hepzibah remains unconvinced. After Holgrave leaves, Hepzibah overhears two working-class men speculating that her business attempt will end in failure, not only because “[t]his business of keeping cent-shops is overdone” but also because Hepzibah herself “scowls dreadfully, reason or none, out of pure ugliness of temper!” Greatly upset by what she hears, Hepzibah is distressed when another “customer” arrives-a little boy wanting a gingerbread cookie. As she did for Holgrave, Hepzibah gives the boy his “purchase” for free-but when the boy returns moments later seeking a second cookie, she makes him pay his cent for it. Other customers follow, increasingly dissatisfied with their purchases. For her part, Hepzibah is increasingly dissatisfied with her neighbors failures to treat her as the noble lady she believes herself to be.
Analysis: This chapter reveals something of Mr. Holgraves-and doubtless Hawthornes-feelings toward aristocracy. The narrator continues to take delight in watching nervous Hepzibah attempt to interact with those of the “lower classes”; note, for instance, the melodramatic language he uses to discuss the boys purchase of the cookie: “The sordid stain of that copper coin could never be washed away from [Hepzibahs] palm.” But note also how the narrator apparently scorns Hepzibahs many mood swings in this chapter, as she is alternatively hopeful and despondent about her course of action. The effect is somewhat humorous, but alerts readers to the possibility that there is more to Hepzibah than meets their eye. Indeed, in the previous chapter, the narrator has told us that another reason for Hepzibahs entrance into business exists, a motivation that he has not yet revealed. Hawthorne thus continues to build suspense, engaging readers interest in the success or failure of Hepzibahs first day of commerce.