The House on Mango Street Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The House of the Seven Gables: Metaphor Analysis

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Not unlike the House of Usher in Poe's 1839 story of that name, the House of the Seven Gables function symbolically. Indeed, it is the dominant symbol of the book. Yes, it is an actual structure in the story. "One possible real-life model for this structure was a house with five gables owned by Susan Ingersoll, Hawthorne's cousin, on Turner Street in Salem. It was turned into a museum in the early twentieth century, with two extra gables added" (Notes, 2001 Modern Library Edition, p. 275). Clearly, however, its more prominent role in the narrative is that of symbol. When the narrator describes the edifice as "desolate, decaying, gusty, rusty, [and] old," he is also describing the Pyncheon family, which has been experiencing a downward turn of its affairs ever since its patriarch, Colonel Pyncheon, helped arrange the execution of Matthew Maule. The decaying state of the house (both the physical building and the "house" in the sense of lineage) hints that one of Hawthorne's themes-unsurprising, given his Puritan heritage-will be "original sin." Like the sin of Adam and Eve as interpreted in classic Christian theology, Colonel Pyncheon's sin against Matthew Maule will be transmitted as if biologically to his descendants. (Readers should note another allusion to a scriptural account of primeval sin: the murder of the elder Jaffrey is referred to as "the heaviest calamity that ever befell the race; no less than the violent death. of one member of the family by a criminal act of another"-a reference to the first fratricide, recounted in Genesis 4. Readers should also note how symbolic architectural language occurs at other key points in the narrative; for example, the narrator's description in Chapter 15 of the "edifice" of respectability that Jaffrey has constructed around himself.
The portrait of Colonel Pyncheon and the miniature of Clifford Pyncheon stand in symbolic contrast to each other. The Colonel's portrait reflects his stern and negative qualities, despite the portraitist's intents, whereas Clifford's angelic and sweet face beams forth from the miniature. In Holgrave's manuscript, the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon also again functions as a focus of supernatural speculation: we learn of the family legend that the Colonel started to descend from the portrait frame when Matthew demanded to be given the House of the Seven Gables; and, when Gervayse agrees to this demand, he believes he sees the figure in the painting scowl. Ultimately, the portrait symbolizes the lust for wealth and greed for gain that is the self-fulfilling curse of the Pyncheon clan.
An animal who seems to symbolize a Pyncheon is the organ-grinder's monkey. The narrator's attention to the money's physical appearance and the creature's supposed greed cannot help but remind readers of what the narrator has chosen to focus on in describing Hepzibah: The monkey "turned a wrinkled and abominable little visage to every passer-by. plainly signifying his excessive desire for whatever filthy lucre might happen to be in anybody's pocket. you could desire no better image of the Mammon of copper-coin." Readers are put in mind of both Hepzibah's lack of beauty (which the narrator seemingly never misses an opportunity to mention) and her re-establishment of the cent-shop-efforts which, they recall, dismayed Clifford when he returned to the House and learned of them-and cast her entrepreneurship in a decidedly less positive light.

 The House on Mango Street Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


 The House on Mango Street Study Guide (Choose to Continue)

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