Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hawthorne, "House of Seven Gables," Day #2

--This is an image of a mesmerist, doing his "stuff," realigning the magnetic currents within his patient. Holgrave is described as being a mesmerist and his telling of his story is supposed to affected Phoebe.

--Discuss Clifford, the lover of beauty. What does Hawthorne seem to think of Clifford's aestheticism, his drive to only experience that which is beautiful? What do you make of his experience at the arched window and why does Hawthorne seem to endorse Clifford's attempt to jump out and join the crowd below?

--Like Clifford, Holgrave is a figure of the artist (the narrator repeats calls him "artist"). What are his political views and what is the narrator's attitude toward them? How would we compare him and his attitude toward others to Clifford?

--The story "Alice Pyncheon" tells part of the history of the Pyncheon-Maule conflict: what is its lesson? In the telling of the story, we seem to have a recapitulation or re-enacting of the dynamic of the story--Holgrave has the opportunity to put Phoebe under his spell. Why does he not do so? What does this story, with its parallel between mesmerism and storytelling/writing, have to say about the artist and writing?


  1. Holgrave, though admittedly not an educated man by Hawthorne, has some interesting political ideas about the past as on page 130 he explains to Phoebe how people are heavily reliant upon the past. I found this to be an intriguing discussion as he addresses court precidents and religion being ever living though what we know of it we gather from a dead man's book. This idea could be seen as Hawthorne's appeal to escape political constructs of the past and form our own. Even today we look to the Constitution for court decisions, but the constitution was written by slave owners who claimed all men were equal. Questioning the authority of dead men is an idea that interests me very much, and apparently Hawthorne as well. I especially like the part about building churches and state-houses of less permanent materials as to be a reminder of the need for reform within the institutions as well.

    As for the Alice Pyncheon story, I'm not entirely sure there is a moral, besides possibly risk assessment, having handed his daughter away for the promise of more land and a better title. Perhaps the moral is that things come full circle. What I am not sure of is the ability of Maule to hypnotize Alice. Is he a wizard? Were they right about his grandfather being a wizard in the same way? This mysticism presents a new set of morals being that before the Maule's were sympathized with and now Matthew looks to be a vengeful and actually wizard-like man.

  2. Telling Alice Pyncheon's story provides the realization that Gervayse Pyncheon was willing to give up his own daughter's sanity and well-being in order to get the deed he wanted. It tells a story of Pyncheon's greed and lack of concern for others. Even though Alice waves him off as if she's fine, Pyncheon doesn't attempt to stop him again. In fact, the book said "Yet it was a call for help!...But, this time, the father did not turn" (146). I found it interesting to see that though he heard this faint call for help, he didn't even try to do so. Perhaps it's a sign that he was too absorbed in his own greed to get the deed to the land. Overall, the lesson of greed is taught through Alice's story, not only by Pyncheon's greed to get the deed, but also by Maule's greed to control Alice. Once he's gained control over her, he uses the power to make her do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Ultimately it leads to Alice's unfortunate, and somewhat accidental, death. All of this was due to Maule's greed.

    After the story is told to Phoebe, she is in a similar state to Alice, but this type Holgrave has the ability to control her. Yet he chooses not to, we are told, because he has a "high quality of reverence for another's individuality" and "integrity" for others. Though it was tempting for Holgrave to be able to have similar powers over Phoebe, he recognizes that it would be unethical, and perhaps he considers the risk that Maule took with Alice and how he ended up accidentally killing her. Holgrave does not want to have that same risk with Phoebe, especially because he's taken a liking to her and does not want to risk her life, so he calls off the trance he has put her into.

    The interesting thing about this story is the duality of it and how within the story, Maule mesmerizes Alice, and then as Holgrave retells the story, he mesmerizes Phoebe. It almost gives a more sinister connotation to storytelling because readers can see how powerful storytelling could be. If merely telling a story about someone becoming mesmerized could actually mesmerize the listener, storytelling must be an extremely powerful tool that can be used for good or for bad. Luckily Holgrave doesn't take advantage of the powers of storytelling, which tells readers something of his character and that he is not corrupt or evil like Maule was.

  3. Hawthorne portrays Clifford as the lover of all things beautiful, but overall this portrait is painted in an ugly manner.

    Hawthorne frequently discusses the drawbacks of Clifford's aestheticism. The main problem Hawthorne gives us is Clifford's reluctance to gaze upon his sister, Hepzibah, because of her aged exterior. This problem is brought up frequently and shows how shallow Clifford is concerning how he responds to things he thinks not beautiful. This lack of care for his sister gives the reader reason to be both sad and upset with the old artist. I say sad because his past has certainly left him without all of his mental faculties, and upset because one feels for the position Hepzibah has been waiting in for so long as, Clifford's dedicated relative/caretaker.

    Hawthorne also frequently refers to Clifford as a child, or being on the same wavelength as a child ("he was a child; a child for the whole term of his existence" [Hawthorne 121]). This childlike demeanor creates a desire to blow soap bubbles out the arched window in the House of the Seven Gables(Hawthorne 122).This arched window is where Clifford finds himself when the procession tears down Pyncheon Street.

    Hawthorne thinks Clifford should take the plunge into the crowd below because he thinks the possible outcomes will be better for Clifford than if he does not jump. One outcome Hawthorne points to is the re-humanizing effect it might have, by way of shocking Clifford's system into a more humane one. The other is more grim; the author believes that possibly all Clifford needs is "the great final remedy- death!"(Hawthorne 119) This endorsement of an old man jumping out of a window into a street procession is ludicrous; he would either immediately die or be injured to the point that he could function even less than he already does. Hawthorne's reasons for promoting the idea of jumping is perhaps a binary solution; either he is fixed and grasps reality more firmly, or he loses it once and for all.