The House of the Seven Gables: Novel Summary: Chapter 11

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Summary: As part of his re-acclimation to everyday life, Clifford spends time with Phoebe at a large window on the second story of the House, watching passers-by and street traffic. Clifford is especially both fascinated and repelled by the performances of an organ-grinder and his monkey:� while taking "childish delight" in the music and the mechanical movement of the organ-grinder's wind-up toy figures, he is appalled by the organ-grinder's monkey, who reveals to him "spiritual as well as physical ugliness." At one point, Clifford makes as if to jump from the window to the street below; although Hepzibah and Phoebe keep him from doing so, he states that taking that plunge "would have made me another man." Clifford does, however, enjoy watching children play. One day, he is blowing soap-bubbles as the children are when he sees Judge Pyncheon. Clifford is terrified by the sight of him.
 
Analysis: The narrator continues, in this chapter, to describe Clifford in apparition-like terms; for example, commenting on the man's mental status as he watches the world pass by the House, the narrator says, "Nothing gives a sadder sense of decay, than this loss or suspension of the power to deal with unaccustomed things. We are less than ghosts, for the time being, whenever this calamity befalls us." Such language reinforces readers' impression of Clifford as a phantom in the flesh, as some visitor from another realm even though he is, of course, a living, breathing, human character. This language of supernatural metaphors occurs again when Hepzibah decides that she and Clifford cannot attend worship on the Sabbath: "We are ghosts! We have no right among human beings-no right anywhere, but in this old house, which has a curse on it, and which, therefore, we are doomed to haunt!" This sense of fundamental estrangement from the rest of human society is strengthened by Clifford's warring impulses toward self-destruction and re-establishment of contact with others, seen in his desire to leap out of the window.
 
The narrator's description of the organ-grinder's performances hints at a fatalistic view of human life that the narrator ultimately rejects: "All [of the organ-grinder's mechanical figures] were precisely in the same condition as before they made themselves so ridiculous by their haste to toil, to accumulate gold, and to become wise." The description evokes the Teacher of Ecclesiastes; it echoes his famous judgment against human existence, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity"-that is, emptiness or futility. The description thus sounds an important thematic note to which readers should continue to pay attention. How does the narrative address and answer questions of the purpose of human life and the power of destiny? For example, is Hepzibah correct to state that she and her brother are "doomed" to haunt the House of the Seven Gables-or might Clifford be better served by yielding to his desire to rejoin the world?

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