, Research Paper
The Dark Side of Hawthorne
In The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
exhibits the fate of a family due to a curse by analyzing
the most “disagreeable” secrets of a man’s soul (Great Lives
1077). Hawthorne shows the decay of an aristocratic family
due to the sins of the past. He uses allegory within his
character’s personalities and emotions to expose “the truth
of the human heart” (biography).
Hawthorne’s chosen location for this novel reflects
greatly on his life and specifically his childhood. Salem
is the home of The House of the Seven Gables. Ironically
this is the same town in which he was born in and lived in
through adulthood. He was raised in this town, therefore he
was very aware of the dark side of its past. He was a part
of this past through his ancestors. One of which was a
judge in the infamous Salem witch trials. At this trial
Hawthorne’s uncle is cursed by a so-called witch with the
words, “God will give you blood to drink” (Magill 2736).
This curse is much similar to Matthew Maule’s curse on the
Pyncheon family (Magill 2734). The solitude of his
characters reflects his childhood as well. Growing up, his
mother kept herself away from people which led him to become
a very solitary man for much of his life. As a young child
Hawthorne was lamed. During these years he became well
learned with the writings of Edmund Spenser, John Bunyan,
and William Shakespear(CSLF 1570). From these men he has
gained technique and style.
Having lived in Salem most of his life, Hawthorne is
extremely influenced by Puritanism. His writings greatly
reflect this. Hawthorne deals much with the sins of a man
being pasted down for generations. This is very much a
Puritan belief. Puritans are a very superstitious type of
person. Thus, this explains Hawthorne’s belief that a
curse, such as Maule’s curse, can destroy a well-to-do
family (Walker 1577). Hawthorne’s characters dealt with
guilt forced on by their ancestor, much of which goes back
as far as the Puritans. He commonly plays guilt against
innocence within one character, Hepzibah Pyncheon. She
feels strongly that she must maintain the lifestyle and
tradition of her ancestor Colonel Pyncheon. He shows her
many personalities as a demonstration of the “secret
motivations” of the heart (biography). Hepzibah is chained
to the curse by her Puritan ancestors therefore her efforts
to escape are often doomed. When she no longer has the
money to fight the destruction of her blood line she turns
to the shop of the past for survival.
The style with which Hawthorne portrays this character
among others is very superstitious, and they deal much with
the evil side of a human being. He often uses a man’s
battle with sin and the devil as a source of controversy
(Great Lives 1077). The Puritan background instilled in him
the reality of the devil and the evil of sinning. In
characters such as Hepzibah he uses evil and pain as a game
(Encyclopedia of World Biography 214). She spends her life
trying to escape from the dreaded Maule’s curse which makes
her suffer in the isolation she has received as a
punishment. Hawthorne emphasizes the imperfection of man
often (Encyclopedia of World Biography). None of his
character are completely good. They all have evil thoughts
at one time or another. His characters must deal with the
dividing line between what is real and what is imaginary
(Great Lives 1077). He focuses on the point that the “truth
of the human heart” cannot be found by any earthly source.
Thus, Hepzibah’s changing personalities display this
question of whom a person really is. Are they good or evil?
Are their actions black or white? This leads into
Hawthorne’s Transcendentalist beliefs.
In the time Hawthorne is writing a movement known as
transcendentalism was affecting literature and art.
Hawthorne is known as a dark transcendentalist because he
focuses strongly on the dark and sinful side of human kind.
In The House of the Seven Gables, he focuses on the self-
examination of character which is a significant idea in
transcendentalism (Encarta Encyclopedia). He believes a
human cannot reach the insights of transcendentalism by mere
sensual experience. They must reach a new level of
understanding. This is similar to Hepzibah inability to
understand Clifford reason and state of mind. He has been
alone many years away from daily sin and the darkness of the
evil within the house. It also relates to Hepzibah’s
inability to understand her emotion until Phoebe comes into
the picture. Phoebe helps her to see the light and that not
everything is dark and gloomy. However, Hepzibah still has
to fight a battle with the side of her that wants to remain
hidden and entrapped by the curse of Old Maule.
Transcendentalists speak of the “divine and supernatural
light” (gonzaga 1). The House of the Seven Gables is
haunted with the supernatural and it takes a higher
understanding to break the chains of the curse, Hawthorne
places the light against the dark with Hepzibah the dark,
and Phoebe the light. Hepzibah’s darkness always out powers
Phoebe’s happiness without intension. The darkness
signifies the imperfection of man that transcendentalists
Hawthorne’s feelings on life alone create the base of
misfortune whether by curse or desire. His writing is often
allegorical and moralistic when dealing with the life of his
characters. They fight moral issues, many dealing with the
loss and possession of money. His characters live a very
isolated life much like his own. In The House of the Seven
Gables loneliness is the punishment Hepzibah pays for the
sin of the Colonel. The pain in the character’s lives comes
from this isolation, however when they try to live among the
people they retreat back into their holes. (WLC 1597).
Hawthorne was identical to this until he met his wife
Sophia. His characters’ pride is the source of their evil.
They fight to hold the lives they lead without the
consideration to modern times. Their lives come into moral
conflict due to human imperfection.
Hawthorne’s transcendentalist views of humanity and his
belief in the devil result in the evil side to his
characters. The curse put upon them from generations back
plagues them in modern time due to their refusal to move on.
Their personalities portray “the truth of the human heart”
Clendenning, John “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” The World Book
Encyclopedia. 1995. 114-115.
“The House of the Seven Gables.” Masterplots. Ed. Frank N.
Magill. Vol.5. Englewood Cliffs, 1976, 2734-2738.
“Nathaniel Hawthorne.” Dictionary of Literary Biography.
Ed. Joel Myerson. Vol. 1. Detroit, 1978, 80-101.
“Nathaniel Hawthorne.” Britanica. 1998. 765-766.
“Nathaniel Hawthorne.” *search.biography.com*.
“Nathaniel Hawthorne.” Encarta Encyclopedia. (1997)
“Nathaniel Hawthorne.” The Critical Temper. Ed. Martin
Tucker. Vol. 4. A Library of Literary Criticism.
Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1979, 509-514.
“Nathaniel Hawthorne.” World Literature Criticism.” Ed.
James P. Draper. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale Research Inc.,
“Nathaniel Hawthorne.” Novels and Novelists : A Guide to
the World of Fiction. Ed. Martin Seymour-Smith.
London : Shuckburgh Reynolds Ltd., 1980, 154-155.
Wagenknecht, Edward. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” Cavalcade of
the American Novel. New York : Henry Holt and Company,
1952, 90, 9, 20, 25, 38-57.
Walker, Ronald G. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” Critical Survey of
Long Fiction. Vol. 4. Englewood Cliffs : Salem Press,
Van Doren, Carl. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” The American Novel.
Ed. Revised. Vol. 1789-1939. New York : The Macmillian
Company, 1966, 58-83 135-137, 210, 213,
“PAL : Nathaniel Hawthorne.”
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