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The Theme of Guilt in The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables is the novel written by N. Hawthorne. The House of the Seven Gables is a Gothic novel, which though raises a number of important themes, which reveal the complexity of characters depicted by the writer. In this regard, it is possible to refer to the theme of guilt, which can be traced throughout the book. At this point, it is possible to refer to the main character Clitford as well as the family of Pyncheons. At the same time, the author attempts to convey the theme of guilt through the complex relationships between characters. However, the author brings in the theme of guilty in the context of the mysterious plot that makes the unfolding of the story surprising and unexpected for readers. In such a way, the author attempts to develop the theme of guilt and to persuade the audience that the guilt may pursue individuals throughout their life but the guilt does not always lead to the punishment. Instead, the author admits the possibility of forgiveness as is the case of Holgrave in relation to Pyncheon family. In such a way, the author reveals the theme of guilt from different standpoints but still Hawthorne reveals the importance of forgiveness and, what is more, the author argues that guilt is not irrevocable and people should not bear their guilt throughout their life.

In fact, the theme of guilt in the novel The House of the Seven Gables is closely intertwined with the main character, Clitford, who was imprisoned and spent thirty years in prison for the murder. Clitford suffers from the sense of guilt for the murder that pursues him throughout his life. He committed a murder in his youth and he is punished because of his crime. The main character suffers from the remorse but still his punishment is severe and he has plenty of time to think over his crime. His remorse makes him feel even worse than his imprisonment, “for, what other dungeon is so dark as one’s own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one’s self!” (Hawthorne, 72). In such a way, Clifford suffers from remorse more than from his imprisonment because even when he is free he is still suffering, whereas his life is ruined because he has spent most of his life in prison.

At the same time, Clifford cannot afford the pressure of the past and it seems he cannot get rid of it: “Shall we never, never get rid of this Past?” cried he, keeping up the earnest tone of his preceding conversation. “It lies upon the Present like a giant’s dead body.” (Hawthorne, 81). Hence, the past pushed on Clifford and made his life unbearable.

However, he is not the only person in the novel, who suffers from the sense of guilt. In fact, the entire family of Pyncheons suffers from the sense of guilt because their ancestor appropriated the land of Maule and that was another crime committed by their ancestors in the past. The only purpose of this crime was the land but, if for Pyncheon it was just a matter of land, then for Maule it was the matter of survival and well-being. In such a way, the author shows the profit-driven nature of guilt and crime: “What we call real estate–the solid ground to build a house on–is the broad foundation on which nearly all the guilt of this world rests.” (Hawthorne, 116).

In such a way, descendants of Pyncheon suffer from the sense of guilt: “we are left to dispose of the awful query, whether each inheritor of the property — conscious of wrong, and failing to rectify it — did not commit anew the great guilt of his ancestor, and incur all its original responsibilities. And supposing such to be the case, would it not be a far truer mode of expression to say of the Pyncheon family, that they inherited a great misfortune, than the reverse?” (Hawthorne, 125). Pyncheon family seems to be condemned and the life and crime committed by Clifford are ultimate manifestations of the guilt and injustice committed by their ancestor.

At the same time, they are not the only people, who are guilty. For instance, “Uncle Venner was commonly regarded as rather deficient, than otherwise, in his wits. In truth he had virtually pleaded guilty to the charge, by scarcely aiming at such success as other men seek, and by taking only that humble and modest part in the intercourse of life which belongs to the alleged deficiency” (Hawthorne, 141). Therefore, guilt affects the life of individuals and they cannot get rid of this feeling because it pursues them throughout their life, while, in case of Pyncheon family the sense of guilt pursues several generations of the family and seems to be inherited by descendants for the crime committed in the distant past.

In this regard, Clitford seems to be a victim of this curse of the family: “and do you think, cousin, that it has cost me no pang?—that it has left no anguish in my bosom, from that day to this, amidst all the prosperity with which Heaven has blessed me?—or that I do not now rejoice, when it is deemed consistent with the dues of public justice and the welfare of society that this dear kinsman, this early friend, this nature so delicately and beautifully constituted,—so unfortunate, let us pronounce him, and forbear to say, so guilty,—that our own Clifford, in fine, should be given back to life, and its possibilities of enjoyment?” (Hawthorne, 161). Therefore, the sense of guilt seems to be irrevocable and Clifford almost runs insane because of the sense of guilt and his loneliness caused by his guilt.

As Phoebe lives the mansion, Clitford seems to remain absolutely lonely and estranged from the mankind: “hidden from mankind,—forgotten by himself, or buried so deeply under a sculptured and ornamented pile of ostentatious deeds that his daily life could take no note of it,—there may have lurked some evil and unsightly thing. Nay, we could almost venture to say, further, that a daily guilt might have been acted by him, continually renewed, and reddening forth afresh, like the miraculous blood-stain of a murder, without his necessarily and at every moment being aware of it” (Hawthorne, 167). In such a way, the entire life of Clifford becomes a nightmare, where he suffers from loneliness and inability to lead a normal life other people do.

At the same time, his crime committed in his youth makes his life even worse: “The presence of yonder dead man threw a great black shadow over everything; he made the universe, so far as my perception could reach, a scene of guilt and of retribution more dreadful than the guilt.” (Hawthorne, 169). Therefore, the prospect of retribution is even more frightening for Clifford than his sense of guilt that pushes on him. The sense of guilt is closely intertwined with crimes to the extent that Clifford may be inclined to such crimes as robbery or, at any rate, people may think of him committing such a crime: “His desk and private drawers, in a room contiguous to his bedchamber, had been ransacked; money and valuable articles were missing; there was a bloody hand-print on the old man’s linen; and, by a powerfully welded chain of deductive evidence, the guilt of the robbery and apparent murder had been fixed on Clifford, then residing with his uncle in the House of the Seven Gables.” (Hawthorne, 175).

On the other hand, Clifford’s crime is not a characteristic of him. Instead, he just knows no other life but the life he leads. He was perceived by others as a criminal almost his entire life. This is why he can hardly perceive himself otherwise but like a criminal. People think of him as a criminal and he is haunted by his sense of guilt. As a result, his life turns into a nightmare. In such a context, the question arises, whether the ancestor of the Pyncheon family suffered from the same sense of guilt as he committed his crime and stole the land from Maule. In this regard, the author of the book attempts to build up parallels between Clifford and his ancestor: “Thus Jaffrey Pyncheon’s inward criminality, as regarded Clifford, was, indeed, black and damnable; while its mere outward show and positive commission was the smallest that could possibly consist with so great a sin. This is just the sort of guilt that a man of eminent respectability finds it easiest to dispose of.” (Hawthorne, 194). In such a way, two representatives of Pyncheon family suffer from the sense of guilt that pursues Clifford, at the least, but, in all probability, Jaffrey Pyncheon also suffered from the sense of guilt in his life.

Therefore, Pyncheon family has guilt for the land stolen by their ancestor from Maule. However, the family is not condemned to bear this curse through generations with no chance of forgiveness. In fact, Holgrave, the descendant of Maule, who was once stolen of his land by Pyncheon, is capable to forgive. Even if his ability to forgive derives from his feeling to Phoebe but still his can forgive that gives Pyncheon family a chance to obtain forgiveness from Maule and his family, whose members their ancestors offended.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the theme of guilt is revealed by Hawthorne in his novel through the history of Pyncheon family and Clifford as one of its members. However, the author stresses that guilt is not irrevocable. In stark contrast, there is always a chance for forgiveness.


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