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MonkeyNotes-The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Chapter 6: "Maule's Well"

Phoebe goes out into the wild, overgrown, and neglected garden that surrounds the house. Hawthorne comments that the black, rich soil has become more fertile because "The evil of those departed years would naturally have sprung up again in such rank weeds, symbolic of the transmitted vices of society as are always prone to root themselves about human dwellings."

Phoebe notices, however, that a part of the garden is tended carefully with love and attention. She wonders who could have planted those vegetables and kept the soil so clean. It is unlikely to be Hepzibah, because she seems to have no inclination towards gardening. Phoebe's attention is also drawn to a fountain which "Nature might fairly claim as her inalienable property." She also notices the hen coop, occupied by Chanticleer, his two wives, and a solitary chicken. Hawthorne comments that they were transmitted "down as an heirloom in the Pyncheon family. The hens are now scarcely larger than pigeons and have a queer rusty, withered aspect, and a gouty kind of movement and a sleepy and melancholy tone." It is evident that "the race had degenerated" and this "distinct variety" had "existed too long," almost like the Pyncheon family itself.

While she is feeding the chickens, Phoebe sees a young man watching her. This is her first encounter with Holgrave. On being told that the chickens respond to her because she is a Pyncheon, Phoebe acknowledges that though she is a Pyncheon, she has grown up on a farm. Holgrave then introduces himself and tells her that he is a professional daguerreotypist. He shows her a daguerreotype, which immediately reminds Phoebe of her old Puritan ancestor, whose portrait is hanging in the parlor. Holgrave informs her that this is a "modern face" and even though the gentleman seems genial and charming, the sun has managed to bring out other aspects of his character--slyness, coldness and imperviousness. Phoebe does not like this picture and informs him about the miniature in Hepzibah's possession.


Before leaving the garden Holgrave warns Phoebe from drinking the water from Maule's Well because it is "water bewitched." Phoebe enters the house and finds Hepzibah strangely anxious and tense. Later Phoebe hears footsteps mounting the stairs, heavily but not with "force and decision." On this note of mystery, the chapter ends.

Notes

Two representatives of the new democracy, Phoebe and Holgrave, are brought together in this chapter. They meet each other in the Pyncheon garden with "its grass and foliage and aristocratic flowers." The plentiful vegetation is symbolic of growth and life. This meeting, therefore, symbolizes new beginnings for the Maule and Pyncheon families.

The deteriorating effect of the social snobbery implicit in an aristocratic way of life is symbolized in the diminutive Pyncheon hens that have wasted away to almost nothing. Like Hepzibah, these chickens have degenerated because they have been isolated too long in an effort to make them a pure species. In a similar manner, the flowers are not flourishing. Everything about the House of the Seven Gables, including Hepzibah and Clifford, seem to be outdated heirlooms from a different age.

The theme of appearance versus reality is further symbolized by Holgrave's reference to the sun, which he says illumines the face in the daguerreotype. "The sun as you see, tells quite another story, and will not be coaxed out of it, after half-a-dozen patient attempts on my part." This is the first indication of the duality of Judge Pyncheon's character. Hawthorne has revealed the Judge's appearance in the previous chapter; in the daguerreotype, the Judge's true self is captured.

The description of Maule's Well, in which the water "wrought magically with these variegated pebbles and made a continually shifting apparition of quaint figures, vanishing too suddenly to be definable," again shows the play of sunlight and how it can illuminate things. The reference of magic is again seen in the words "bewitched water" when referring to the well. Having deepened the air of mystery with the references to the daguerreotype, Maule's Well, and the "footsteps" on the staircase, Hawthorne ends this chapter.

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