THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES
CHAPTER 9 : PHOEBE AND CLIFFORD
Hepzibah, overwhelmed by misfortune and by the literal and symbolic shadow of the House, comes to realize that she cannot restore to happiness her gloomy brother Clifford and she cannot be a comforting presence to Clifford. She tries to entertain him by reading aloud to him, but her voice is a kind of croak. He also finds the booksshe chooses uninteresting, and he cannot bear to look at her withered face and hideous appearance. So, we may wonder why is Phoebe, and nobody else, given the task of taking care of him ?
I – Phoebe, an ideal character
A/ Phoebe's description
Phoebe embodies several symbolic values. First, she is presented as a perfect creature, as a divinity because she enjoys all the traits of feminine beautywithout the slightest blemishes, she is remarkable by her magnificence, her somptuosité and she appears perfectly good-looking (l.2-3, l.10-12, l.17-19).
Secondly, she is compared to a rosebud et to a blossom (l.63, l.90), since she represents purity, virginity, innocence in her thought, judgements and acts. It also signifies that she has not already seen life, tasted life’s pleasures andexperienced the beneficial and damaging effects of life.
The narrator gives Phoebe a poetic dimension by using the image of a shipwrecked grounded on the beach and by referring to the five senses because she delights his five senses and arouses emotions in his soul. She is pleasing to eyesight by natural charming and attractive traits and to voice for she sings with angelic qualities (l.70-75). Sheflatters touch because her hand passes her generosity on him, puts him in touch with the external world and succeeds in wining his trust in it (l.34-38). She delights smell because this flower which is opening gives off a exciting and desirable perfume that intoxicates him (l.90). Taste remains the only sense to which he does not have access in the sense that it represents the forbidden fruit. Byyielding to temptation to kiss Phoebe’s « ripe » lips, he would commit sin and would sink into immorality (l.61). The narrator lets the readers in ambiguity about lips, it’s their task to give free rein to their thoughts. We could believe that through his character, the narrator passes his man’s fantasies on, but he does not completely reveal them not to shock his readers.
B/ Why has she beenchosen ?
Miraculously, Phoebe is not brought down by the pathos and misery that envelop the house and therefore its inhabitants. She is considered as the symbol of hope to bring Clifford out of his solitude and his depression because she is not the fruit of the Pyncheon aristocratic line of descent and therefore she has not been brought up with the same morals and manners than the Pyncheon whichadvocate cruelty, ambition, deceit and greediness. As a consequence, she is not affected by the phyical deterioration and the moral degradation, she has not to bear the inescapable burden of these ancestral malediction and sin which are revisited upon its descendants, and she has not inherited from the corrupted and malicious nature of the members of the House whose desires of power outweighed anymoral considerations to achieve their own aims. Finally, she brings new and pure blood, a new-found energy by caring for the starved Clifford. She represents the symbols of a new beginning for him and of the daylight at the end of the tunnel which is succeeding to keep at bay misfortune.
II – Her influence and her consequences
A/ The rebirth of Clifford
In this extract, his mental andemotional imprisonment, as well as his victimization by a past which has been an awful and harmful repercussion on him diminish and disappear thanks to the positive influence Phoebe exercices on him.
Thanks to her sunny, bright and cheerful nature she naturally enjoys, she brings the only rays of light and joy, and a breath of fresh air which manage to dispel the somber, heartless and lifeless...
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