Symbolism in The House of the Seven Gables

Rebecca Smith

American literature reflects life and the struggles faced during existence. Symbols are an eloquent way for an author to create a more fully developed work of art. The stories themselves tell a tale; however, an author also uses symbols to relay his message in a more subtle manner. Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the earliest authors to use symbols as an integral part of his plots. This is clearly seen in both The Scarlet Letter and in The House of the Seven Gables. The use of symbols causes an "association psychology" to enter into the story, making it more intriguing.1 In Nathaniel Hawthorne?s romance The House of the Seven Gables, symbolism is used eloquently to enhance the story being told by providing the reader with a deeper insight into the more complicated intentions in the story.

The novel begins by describing the most obvious symbol in the book, being the house itself. The exterior of the house is a "rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst."2 The house is almost organic because of its aura and the vines that cover it.3 It is significant that the house is made from wood because wood is a degradable material. A stone house?s beauty grows greater with age, and the interior can be redecorated, but a wooden house without good upkeep can only decay.4 The roof of the house is so rotted that there is mosses and other vegetation growing in between the gables. The house is truly the decaying yet proud spectacle of the neighborhood. Yet, though the house is the spectacle of the neighborhood, it is also the focus of young children?s imaginations. This is seen where the first customer of the shop appears asking for a cookie. It is clear that the young boy was very curious as to what is happening in the great mansion. The house is an old wooden building that is rotting away but still is a good enough quality to withstand some of the test of time.

The house is referred to as a prison by Hawthorne; he calls Hepzibah and Clifford inmates. The house is a prison because it prevents the inhabitants from truly enjoying any freedom. The inmates attempt an escape from their prison twice. Initially, as Phoebe and Clifford watch the parade of life in the street, Clifford realizes that his life has become meaningless, and he cannot help but try to join the masses below. This could mean the only way for Clifford to become truly reunited with mankind is through death. Unfortunately, Clifford fails to win his freedom and returns to the solace of his prison. The second attempt at escape is by Clifford and Hepzibah. They attempt to escape the clutches of the house, but, alas, it is too late for them. The house has affected them too much to stay away. This is apparent when Hepzibah and her brother made themselves ready- as ready as they could in the best of their old-fashioned garments, which had hung on pegs, or had been laid away in trunks, so long that the dampness and mouldy smell of the past was on them- made themselves ready in their faded bettermost, to go to church. They descended the staircase together...pulled open the front door, and stepped across the threshold, and felt, both of them, as if they were standing in the presence of the whole world... Their hearts quaked within them, at the idea of taking one step further.5

Hepzibah and Clifford are completely cut off from the outside world. They are like prisoners who, after being jailed for decades, return to find a world they do not know. Clifford realizes this and offers his insight, "?We are ghosts! We have no right among human beings- no right anywhere, but in this old house.?"6 The house has imprisoned their souls and trapped their lives; hence, the house symbolizes a prison for the characters. Although the most obvious of Hawthorne?s symbols is the house, many of the things in and around the house are also token items. The elm tree outside of the house is very large in stature. It is the symbol of nature and life. The elm tree began very small in comparison to the house, but over