The House of the Seven Gables: Novel Summary: Chapter 6

Summary: Phoebe spends time in the House`s garden. The garden is largely dying, but some signs of life are still present. Phoebe wonders who might be tending the garden as best they can; she assumes it cannot be Hepzibah`s doing, as her cousin has no inclination for such activities. (Readers will only later learn that Holgrave has been tending the garden.) As Phoebe is feeding the chickens in the garden, she is surprised by Holgrave, the House`s lodger. Although she has formed a negative opinion of Holgrave because of Hepzibah`s remarks in the previous chapter, she soon finds herself engaged in conversation with him. Holgrave shows Phoebe a sample of his photography. Phoebe believes it is a copy of old Colonel Pyncheon`s portrait, but Holgrave tells her it is a photograph of “a modern face, and one which you will very probably meet.” (Readers will later discover that this photograph is of Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon.) Phoebe mentions the miniature in Hepzibah`s possession (which readers now know to be a portrait of Clifford Pyncheon). Holgrave presses Phoebe as to whether or not she could imagine the sweet-faced subject of that portrait committing some evil; Phoebe dismisses all such talk as “a crime.” As he takes his leave of her, Holgrave warns Phoebe not to drink from the water of Maule`s well, “because, like an old lady`s cup of tea, it is water bewitched!” The phrase he uses was, in Hawthorne`s day, “a� colloquial term for any excessively diluted beverage” (Notes, 2001 Modern Library Edition, p. 279), but it also functions to build up readers` expectations of supernatural elements in the author`s self-identified “romance.” That night, Hepzibah shows unexpected tenderness toward Phoebe. The narrator wonders on the readers` behalf, “How came there to be so much love in [Hepzibah`s] desolate old heart, that it should afford to well over thus abundantly!” Phoebe thinks that she overhears Hepzibah conversing on the stairs with someone else, “the murmur of an unknown voice,” and she hears “a footstep mounting the stairs heavily,” but she eventually credits these noises to her imagination. Analysis: As he does in The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne in this novel draws extensively on imagery from the natural world to communicate his thematic concerns. Indeed, he explicitly alerts his readers to the significance of the natural symbolism: for example, the weeds are “symbolic of the transmitted vices of society.” The garden as an archetype, of course, looks backward to the innocent-or, in the vocabulary of Puritan theology, unfallen-state of humanity (see Genesis 2-3). The previous chapter has already cast Phoebe in angelic, heavenly terms; here, we see the character inhabiting an appropriately heavenly venue: “The eye of Heaven seemed to look down into [the garden], pleasantly, and with a peculiar smile, as if glad to perceive that Nature, elsewhere overwhelmed, and driven out of the dusty town, had here been able to retain a breathing-place.” The garden setting thus reinforces readers` positive views of Phoebe. As she “sanctified” (not Hawthorne`s term, but an appropriate one nonetheless, given the theological dynamic never far beneath the surface of this text) the bed-chamber by her presence in the previous chapter, so here does Phoebe “sanctify” and elevate the Pyncheon garden. The attention of the readers is drawn to those elements of growth and life in an otherwise decaying setting-the white double rose-bush, or the recently pruned fruit-bushes-thanks to Phoebe`s presence on the scene. (Indeed, readers note these things as she does, from her point of view.) She even tames wild animals-a possible allusion to such utopian texts as Isaiah 11:6-9-in that she feeds the chickens Holgrave has never been able to feed! The discussion of portraiture, whether by painting or by daguerreotype, raises the issue of the degree to which one`s internal self can actually be concealed. Holgrave claims that photography cannot help but reveal a person`s inner nature, even if the technique only claims and seems to represent the surface. Readers, however, will remember that the painted portrait of Colonel Pyncheon has, over time, revealed virtually nothing but the patriarch`s negative qualities, qualities which have exerted a burdensome influence over his House for generations. Holgrave`s insistent questioning of Phoebe regarding the miniature portrait of Clifford may well lead readers to wonder if Phoebe and Hepzibah are right to regard Clifford as the sweet, angelic subject he appears to be. Hawthorne is probably suggesting, through Holgrave, that appearances are indeed often deceiving. A final point of interest in this chapter is Holgrave`s reference to communal life: “[W]e will be fellow-laborers somewhat on the community system.” Hawthorne had first-hand experience with utopian, communitarian dreams of reform, and he has clearly lodged those dreams in the character of Holgrave. It is that passion of vision which lends Holgrave the “certain magnetic element in the artist`s nature”-an allusion to Hepzibah`s charge in the previous chapter that Holgrave “practiced animal magnetism” and perhaps the black arts. Hawthorne thus keeps before his readers the promise of supernatural elements; whether that promise will be realized, however, readers must wait to see.