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Hawthorne's Politics in The House of the Seven Gables RICHARD CLARK STERNE Reasonably enough, discussions of Hawthorne's politics in his most political romance 1 have focussed on the economic relations between Pyncheons and Maules, and on Holgrave's social ideas. But the roles played by Ned Higgins, evidently a child of working-class parents/ the young carpenter, Matthew Maule, and the Negro figures, Jim Crow and Scipio, deserve more careful consideration than they have received. It is clear that in dealing with the problem of property Hawthorne drew upon the ideas of Locke, Proudhon and Fourier. 3 What is not so clear is the relationship between Hawthorne's explicit comments on slavery - in his 1852 campaign biography of the anti-Abolitionist Franklin Pierce, as well as in his Atlantic Monthly article of 1862, "Chiefly About War Matters'' and the depiction in The House of the Seven Gables of "aristocrats," blacks, and poor whites. I think that a careful analysis of all these matters may lead to a more satisfactory definition of Hawthorne's politics than that of Russell Kirk, who considers Hawthorne an outstanding conservative / or that of F. 0. Matthiessen, who interestingly but cryptically refers to a "peculiar kind of social understanding" which "made Hawthorne hold to both the contrasting terms of [the] paradox of being at once a democrat and a conservative." 5 Ned Higgins and Jim Crow make their appearance in "The First Customer," the ambiguously amusing chapter in which Hepzibah sacrifices her gentility by opening a cent shop. She has delayed this sacrifice by presenting to Holgrave as a gift the biscuits which he wished to buy. But after he leaves, the door to the shop is "thrust open" - "forced quite open," Hawthorne emphasizes, a few lines further on - by an urchin who stares at her a moment, "as an elder customer than himself would have been likely enough to do," (49-50) then holds out a cent and asks for the Jim Crow in the window. Squeamish at the sight of the coin, and ashamed "to take the child's pocket-money, in exchange for a bit of stale gingerbread ," Hepzibah again avoids consummating a sale: she gives Jim Crow to the astonished child, who leaves the shop only to reappear, the "crumbs and discolorations of the cannibal-feast exceedingly visible about his THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. VI, NO. 1., SPRING 1.975 mouth," (50) to ask for "that other Jim Crow!" Now, chiefly to get rid of theurchin, she asks to be paid: Thenew shopkeeper dropt the first solid result of her commercial enterprise into the till.It was done I The sordid stain of that copper-coin could never be washed away from her palm. The little schoolboy, aided by the impish figure of the negro dancer, had wrought an irreparable ruin. The structure of ancient aristocracy had been demolished by him, even as if his childish gripe had torn down the seven-gabled mansion! Now let Hepzibah turn the old Pyncheon portraits with their faces to the wall, and take the map of her eastern-territory to kindle the kitchen-fire, and blow up the flame with the empty breath of her ancestral traditions! What had she to do with ancestry? Nothing; - no more than with posterity! No lady, now, but simply Hepzibah Pyncheon, a forlorn old maid, and keeper of a cent shop! (51) Because Hawthorne presents in mock-melodramatic terms these ideas which "paraded" through Hepzibah' s mind, we are not much inclined toward explication de texte. But he is dealing with a complex issue here and throughout the chapter. In part he treats Hepzibah as the symbol of a decayed, otiose aristocracy in the utilitarian climate of the United States. LikePyncheons before her, she thinks of commerce as vulgar, and dreams of possessing a vast estate in Maine. Hawthorne's attitude toward her decision to open the cent-shop is evidently that of Holgrave: Hitherto, the life-blood has been gradually chilling in your veins, as you sat aloof, within your circle of gentility, while the rest of the world was fighting out its battle with one kind of necessity or another. Henceforth, you...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 74-83
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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