However, he is not the only person in the novel, who suffers from the sense of guilt. In fact, the entire family of Pyncheons suffers from the sense of guilt because their ancestor appropriated the land of Maule and that was another crime committed by their ancestors in the past. The only purpose of this crime was the land but, if for Pyncheon it was just a matter of land, then for Maule it was the matter of survival and well-being. In such a way, the author shows the profit-driven nature of guilt and crime: “What we call real estate–the solid ground to build a house on–is the broad foundation on which nearly all the guilt of this world rests.” (Hawthorne, 116).
In such a way, descendants of Pyncheon suffer from the sense of guilt for the Pyncheon family “inherited a great misfortune, than the reverse” (Hawthorne, 125) for they are descendant of Puncheon and live in the house built on the land stolen from the Maules. Pyncheon family seems to be condemned and the life and crime committed by Clifford are ultimate manifestations of the guilt and injustice committed by their ancestor.
At the same time, they are not the only people, who are guilty. For instance, “Uncle Venner was commonly regarded as rather deficient, than otherwise, in his wits. In truth he had virtually pleaded guilty to the charge, by scarcely aiming at such success as other men seek, and by taking only that humble and modest part in the intercourse of life which belongs to the alleged deficiency” (Hawthorne, 141). Therefore, guilt affects the life of individuals and they cannot get rid of this feeling because it pursues them throughout their life, while, in case of Pyncheon family the sense of guilt pursues several generations of the family and seems to be inherited by descendants for the crime committed in the distant past.
In this regard, Clitford seems to be a victim of this curse of the family. For instance, Jaffrey says: “this dear kinsman, this early friend, this nature so delicately and beautifully constituted,—so unfortunate, let us pronounce him, and forbear to say, so guilty,—that our own Clifford, in fine, should be given back to life, and its possibilities of enjoyment?” (Hawthorne, 161). Therefore, the sense of guilt seems to be irrevocable and Clifford almost runs insane because of the sense of guilt and his loneliness caused by his guilt. However, it is Jaffrey’s guilt that makes him stress the guilt of the Puncheons’ family.
As Phoebe lives the mansion, Clitford seems to remain absolutely lonely and estranged from the mankind: “hidden from mankind,—forgotten by himself, or buried so deeply under a sculptured and ornamented pile of ostentatious deeds that his daily life could take no note of it,—there may have lurked some evil and unsightly thing. Nay, we could almost venture to say, further, that a daily guilt might have been acted by him, continually renewed, and reddening forth afresh, like the miraculous blood-stain of a murder, without his necessarily and at every moment being aware of it” (Hawthorne, 167). In such a way, the entire life of Clifford becomes a nightmare, where he suffers from loneliness and inability to lead a normal life other people do.
At the same time, his crime committed in his youth makes his life even worse, as Jaffrey points out: “The presence of yonder dead man threw a great black shadow over everything; he made the universe, so far as my perception could reach, a scene of guilt and of retribution more dreadful than the guilt.” (Hawthorne, 169). Jaffrey wants to evoke the sense of guilt in Puncheons to make them flee from the house, which he apparently wanted to possess. Therefore, the prospect of retribution is even more frightening for Clifford than his sense of guilt that pushes on him. The sense of guilt is closely intertwined with crimes to the extent that Clifford may be inclined to such crimes as robbery or, at any rate, people may think of him committing such a crime: “His desk and private drawers, in a room contiguous to his bedchamber, had been ransacked; money and valuable articles were missing; there was a bloody hand-print on the old man’s linen; and, by a powerfully welded chain of deductive evidence, the guilt of the robbery and apparent murder had been fixed on Clifford, then residing with his uncle in the House of the Seven Gables.” (Hawthorne, 175). On the other hand, Clifford’s crime is not a characteristic of him. Instead, he just knows no other life but the life he leads. He was perceived by others as a criminal almost his entire life. This is why he can hardly perceive himself otherwise but like a criminal. People think of him as a criminal and he is haunted by his sense of guilt. As a result, his life turns into a nightmare. In such a context, the question arises, whether the ancestor of the Pyncheon family suffered from the same sense of guilt as he committed his crime and stole the land from Maule. In this regard, the author of the book attempts to build up parallels between Clifford and his ancestor: “Thus Jaffrey Pyncheon’s inward criminality, as regarded Clifford, was, indeed, black and damnable; while its mere outward show and positive commission was the smallest that could possibly consist with so great a sin. This is just the sort of guilt that a man of eminent respectability finds it easiest to dispose of.” (Hawthorne, 194). In such a way, two representatives of Pyncheon family suffer from the sense of guilt that pursues Clifford, at the least, but, in all probability, Jaffrey Pyncheon also suffered from the sense of guilt in his life.
Therefore, Pyncheon family has guilt for the land stolen by their ancestor from Maule. However, the family is not condemned to bear this curse through generations with no chance of forgiveness. In fact, Holgrave, the descendant of Maule, who was once stolen of his land by Pyncheon, is capable to forgive. Holgrave was supposed to hate Pyncheon because their ancestor had stolen the land of his ancestor. However, in contrast, Holgrave admires Phoebe and forgives the Pyncheons. Even if his ability to forgive derives from his feeling to Phoebe but still his can forgive that gives Pyncheon family a chance to obtain forgiveness from Maule and his family, whose members their ancestors offended.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the theme of guilt is revealed by Hawthorne in his novel through the history of Pyncheon family and Clifford as one of its members. However, the author stresses that guilt is not irrevocable. In stark contrast, there is always a chance for forgiveness.
Adler, Hans and Sabine Gross. “Adjusting the Frame: Comments on Cognitivism and Literature.” Poetics Today 23.2 (2002): 195-220.
Anderson, David R. “Razing the Framework: Reader-Response Criticism After Fish.” After Post-Structuralism: Interdisciplinarity and Literary Theory, ed. Nancy Easterlin and Barbara Riebling. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1993. 155-76.
Andringa, Els and Sara Davis. “Literary Narrative and Mental Representation or How Readers Deal With ‘A Rose for Emily.’” Naturalistic Text Comprehension, ed. Herre van Oostendorp and Rolf A. Zwaan. Norwood: Ablex, 1994. 247-68.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Bantam, 1983.
Asante, Molefi Kete. African American History: A Journey of Liberation. Maywood: The Peoples Publishing Group, Inc., 1995.
Beaugrande, Robert de. “Surprised by Syncretism: Cognition and Literary Criticism Exemplified by E. D. Hirsch, Stanley Fish, and J. Hillis Miller.” Poetics 12 (1983): 83-137.
Bennett, Lerone. Before the Mayflower. Johnson Publishing Company, 1982.
Benzon, William and David G. Hays. “Metaphor, Recognition, and Neural Process.” American Journal of Semiotics 5 (1987): 59-79.
Beowulf. London: Penguin Classics, 1996.
Boden, Margaret A. The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms. New York: Basic, 1991.
Damrosch, David. What Is World Literature? Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.
Dee, Katherine. Kid Heroes of the Environment. Bathroom Readers Press, 1991.
Habib, M.A.R. A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present. New York: Random House, 2003.
Hawthorne, N. The House of the Seven Gables. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.
Holquist, Michael. Dialogism: Bakhtin and His World, Second Edition. Routledge, 2002.
Holquist, Michael. “Introduction.” Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. By Mikhail Bakhtin. Eds. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.
Holquist, Michael. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. By Mikhail Bakhtin. Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1981.
Porter, Abbott, H.. “Humanists, Scientists, and the Cultural Surplus.” SubStance 30.1&2 (2001): 203-19.
Rothenberg, Jerome & Pierre Joris (editors), Poems for the Millennium: a Global Anthology of Modern & Postmodern Poetry, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
Shakespeare, W. Hamlet. London: Penguin Classics, 1998.