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The House of the Seven Gables: Novel Summary: Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

Summary: About noon, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon passes the House and unsuccessfully attempts to hide his reaction of chagrin, of "exceeding displeasure," from Hepzibah, who only sees him briefly across the street before he moves on. Seeing (and trembling under the gaze of) the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon, Hepzibah reflects on how much Jaffrey Pyncheon resembles the long-dead patriarch of the family. She also reflects on the miniature portrait she spent time gazing at when she arose in the morning, which readers may suppose, from the language of Hepzibah's thoughts, is a portrait of a dead relative: "Yes," Hepzibah thinks as she looks on the miniature portrait, "they persecuted his mother in him! He never was a Pyncheon!"
Another visitor arrives at the shop: Uncle Venner, as he is known-a man older than Hepzibah, who, for as long as she can remember, has been a resident of the neighborhood, beloved by his neighbors. This venerable old man commends Hepzibah for re-opening the store, for "young people," he believes, should not remain idle. He does, however, wonder why Judge Pyncheon does not provide more for Hepzibah from his "great means." Hepzibah does not want to talk about that subject, nor does she wish to discuss Uncle Venner's whispered inquiry, "When do you expect him home?" Readers are left to wonder whom, if anyone, Hepzibah is expecting. Uncle Venner imparts, Polonius-like, various clich�s of business advice to Hepzibah before taking his leave.
At the end of the unprofitable business day, someone does arrive at the House of the Seven Gables, but it is not someone Hepzibah is expecting: it is Phoebe Pyncheon, the young girl to whom the narrator alluded in Chapter 1. Hepzibah is not pleased at Phoebe's unannounced arrival, and decides that she can only stay at the House for one night, lest "Clifford" (to whom readers have not yet been introduced; but see the Summary of Chapter 1, above) be disturbed by her presence.
Analysis: In this chapter, readers see how both Colonel Pyncheon's portrait and the miniature function as symbols of the past impinging upon the present. Through his portrait, the darker aspects of the Colonel's personality seem to assert themselves, just as the miniature communicates positive aspects of its (still unidentified) subject's personality-aspects that, furthermore, were shared by that subject's mother. (Compare also Hepzibah's observation of Phoebe: "[T]here is a look of her father about her, too!") Readers could well wonder if, in Hawthorne's novel, physical resemblance suggests moral resemblance-and, if so, to what degree.
Uncle Venner's conversation with Hepzibah touches on the theme of American society's search for self-identity-understandably, a predominant theme in the country's early national literature; compare, for example, Washington Irving's Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon (1819), the short stories in which (including "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow") express much ambivalence about America's culture in comparison to that of Europe.


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