The House of the Seven Gables: Novel Summary: Chapter 8

Summary: Entering the cent-shop, Phoebe finds that Ned Higgins-the voracious young customer whom readers met in Chapter 3-is the visitor who has rung the bell. After eating more gingerbread, he mentions that his mother wants to know “how Old Maid Pyncheons brother does.” The secret of Clifford Pyncheons identity is thus finally revealed.
The next visitor to the store is Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, “the original of the miniature which [Holgrave] had shown her in the garden.” Phoebe has a strong negative reaction to the Judge; in fact, her imagination flirts, albeit briefly, with the wild speculation that Jaffrey Pyncheon is none other than Colonel Pyncheon returned from the dead, so similar is the Judge in somber aspect and foreboding presence to his ancestor. Phoebe also reacts unfavorably to a characteristic gurgling noise, a “queer and awkward ingurgitation,” that the Judge makes in his throat. She has heard the family oral tradition about Matthew Maules curse on the Colonel and his descendants-“that God would give them blood to drink”-and this unusual sound seems evidence that Maules malediction has come to pass.
The Judge wishes to see Clifford. In fact, he forcibly attempts to see him. He seems shocked that Phoebe regards Hepzibahs brother as “a poor, gentle, childlike man” with whom a mother might trust her infant: “And is it possible,” he inquires of her, “that you have never heard of Clifford Pyncheon? that you know nothing of his history?” Under the cover of a genuine concern for Cliffords welfare, the Judge tries to muscle his way past Hepzibah into the parlor in order to talk to Clifford, but Hepzibah refuses to allow him entrance. The Judge relents.
Analysis: Although readers have glimpsed Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon in Chapter 4, this chapter offers a lengthy and sustained reflection upon the Judges character, which readers are persuaded is disagreeable, to say the least. Hawthorne again returns to the important symbol of the old Colonel Pyncheons portrait. When Phoebe thinks that the two men may be one and the same, the narrator assures us that the thought is nothing more than an idle one, a fancy that Phoebe does not seriously entertain. What readers finish the chapter knowing, however, is that the narrator takes that “fancy” most seriously indeed-not literally, perhaps, but certainly metaphorically. In the ways that matter most, the Judge is the Colonel, and the narrator drives this point home with his Puritanically orthodox homily on original sin:? “.[T]he weaknesses and defects, the bad passions, the mean tendencies, and the moral diseases which lead to crime, are handed down from one generation to another.” Readers cannot help but sense that this passage-indeed, this chapter-will serve as a key to interpreting the entire novel.
Hawthorne reinforces this sense through skillful employment of narrative details drawn from Genesis 3, building upon the foundation of scriptural allusion he laid in Chapter 6. There, readers saw Phoebe as an Eve-like figure in an idyllic “Garden of Eden.” There, in other words, we saw her as “unfallen.” In the present chapter, however, we see temptation, sin, and evil lurking about in the person of the Judge. Note how, like the serpent in Eden, the Judge calls so much attention to sensual details (e.g., “favorable auspices,” “I see your father now, about your mouth!,” his attempt to kiss Phoebe, albeit as-supposedly-the socially acceptable kiss of an older cousin to a younger). The sexual tension in the scene is palpable and forbidden-expected, perhaps, from a writer whose Puritanical upbringing associated sexuality with sin and tended to read Genesis 2-3 as a narrative about original sin and its transmission through sexual intercourse (a reading modern biblical readers know is not necessarily implicit in the original text). Note how the Judge flatters Phoebe in the manner of the serpent flattering Eve, and it is, specifically, flattery of her alleged wisdom (e.g., “You are a good child, and know how to take care of yourself”; compare the serpents words, “Your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods”). Note especially the telling paragraph in which Hawthorne all but telegraphs his symbolic and allusive intentions for the Judge: “[Phoebe] found herself quite overpowered by the sultry, dog-day heat of benevolence, which this excellent man diffused out of his great heart into the surrounding atmosphere;-very much like a serpent, which, as a preliminary to fascination, is said to fill the air with his peculiar odor” (emphasis added). The Judge is equated with “a serpent,” meaning The Serpent, meaning-again, in Puritan and most classic Christian theology, Satan.
This chapter also shows that Hawthorne is a keen observer and interpreter of human nature. Consider, for instance, how the Judge puts off “more of his dignity in due proportion with the humbleness of the man whom he saluted” as a means of seeking privileged social status in the supposedly egalitarian republic of America. The theme of social class interaction is thus advanced. Consider also that moment in which the Judges true character is revealed, despite his laborious efforts to conceal it: as the Judge stands on the threshold of the parlor, determined to see Clifford, “[i]t was not pity that restrained him, for, at the first sound of [Cliffords] enfeebled voice, a red fire kindled in [the Judges] eyes, and he made a quick pace forward, with something inexpressibly fierce and grim, darkening forth, as it were, out of the whole man.” No matter how hard the Judge may try to conceal that flaming ferocity in the future, Phoebe, Hepzibah, and the readers have all seen it. It can never again be denied.
To this point in the novel, Hawthorne has been, in a sense, toying with readers: labeling his work as a “romance”. spinning tales of men executed for necromancy who cast curses on future generations. casually using the language of haunting and ghosts. Now, however, readers may begin to understand: for Hawthorne-as it should be, perhaps, for us all-what is truly to be feared is not the supernatural, but the all too human; specifically, the sinful and fallen nature of men such as Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, the serpent who presents a respectable and seductive face to the world, while hateful and evil fire burns within.