Structuralism Critic Of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House Of The Seven Gables

1708 words - 7 pages

With the Revolutionary War only sixty-eight years removed, aristocratic thinking is being challenged by the new democratic mind-set. During this turbulent, yet exciting, growth spurt in American history, Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes The House of the Seven Gables (1851). His masterful use of binary characters subtlety argues for the wholesomeness of plebeian democratic values rather than keeping the patrician aristocratic power structure. Hawthorne creates several characters that are in binary opposition to one another. Among other themes, these characters represent the theme of the rise of the plebeian over the ashes of the patrician. The scene is first set with Colonel Pyncheon and Matthew Maule. The Colonel is a puritan aristocrat who encourages the persecution and subsequent hanging of Matthew Maule for witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials in order to lay claim to the Maule property--the only land that has a stream running through it. In this first battle of the patriarch versus the plebeian, it is the patriarch who wins--or does he? The legend goes on to claim that at Matthew Maule's hanging, he curses the Colonel saying, "God will give him blood to drink!" (358) The Colonel later hires Maule's son, Thomas, to build the Seven Gabled House on top of Maule's old cabin. Then, in good old aristocratic fashion, he throws a house warming party for the whole town but seemingly departs from his patriarchic position by remaining absent even when the Lieutenant Governor arrives. It is discovered that the Colonel is in his study--dead--with "blood on his ruff, and ...his hoary beard ...saturated with it" (364). Thus, Hawthorne sets the stage with the power of a plebeian curse at least appearing to come true. The main tale takes place one hundred and sixty years after the Colonel's death, but in a flashback to thirty-seven years after his death the story of Alice Pyncheon and the grandson of Matthew Maule also named Matthew provides Hawthorne's readers with an important aristocratic/democratic battle. Alice's father, Gervayse, tries to persuade, coerce, and bargain with Maule for information on the whereabouts of papers conferring ownership of the disputed eastern territory. Maule, a mesmerist and carpenter, agrees to help, but he must mesmerize Alice "...to be able to discover, through your [Alice] means, a certain paper or parchment, which was missing long before your birth" (526). Matthew and Alice are attracted to each other, but between the family feud and the social rift, they despise their reaction to each other. Plebeian Matthew represents the democracy in this test of wills. Alice, in particular, and her father are the aristocratic representatives. Matthew proceeds to mesmerize Alice, but no information concerning the papers is forthcoming; however, he does gain complete control over her mind. "Is it my crime, if you have sold your daughter for the mere hope of getting a sheet of yellow parchment into your clutch?"...

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