The House of the Seven Gables: Novel Summary: Chapter 9

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Chapter 9

Summary: Hepzibah attempts to reinvigorate her brother's spirit in a variety of ways-reading books to him, for instance, or considering (but not actually) playing music on Alice Pyncheon's harpsichord-but to no avail: "She was a grief to Clifford, and she knew it." Phoebe, in sharp contrast, proves a delight to him. Her physical beauty, her songs, her mere presence all combine to bring joy to "Cousin Clifford," as she now calls him: indeed, "[h]e grew youthful while she sat by him." She seems to inspire within him the revelation of a beauty long absent. The "veil" of gloom over Clifford, however, is ever only partially lifted, and Phoebe wonders to herself (as the novel's readers have been led to wonder, as well), "Was he always thus? Had this veil been over him from his birth?" Hepzibah and Phoebe take turns minding the cent-shop and minding Clifford.
 
Analysis: This chapter continues Hawthorne's emphasis on the ways in which external appearance can reflect internal realities. The narrator makes much, for example, of Hepzibah's disagreeable physical features: her perpetual scowl is again highlighted, as is her age and her dress, particularly her strange turban, which, we are told, "several guardian angels" prevent her from festooning with ribbons in an attempt to cheer up her brother. Even Hepzibah's voice speaks of an inward reality, for it had over time "contracted a kind of croak, which, when it once gets into the human throat, is as ineradicable as sin." Hawthorne thus links the theme of physical characteristics to inward, indelible, original sin or, as Puritan theology terms it, "total depravity." For her part, of course, the angelic Phoebe reflects no such unpleasantness. Her physical beauty perfectly mirrors, it would seem, an inward beauty by which Clifford cannot help but be enlightened. Hawthorne at one point explicitly makes the comparison of the two females' appearance a comparison, in effect, of their souls: "For the gaunt, bony frame and limbs of Hepzibah, as compared with the tiny lightsomeness of Phoebe's figure, were perhaps in some fit proportion with the moral weight and substance, respectively, of the woman and the girl." Again, readers may be reminded of "The Minister's Black Veil," Hawthorne's short story in which external appearances correspond to internal realities.

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