“A man will commit almost any wrong—he will heap up an immense pile of wickedness, as hard as granite, and which will weigh heavily upon his soul, to eternal ages—only to build a great, gloomy, dark-chambered mansion, for himself to die in, and for his posterity to be miserable in. He lays his own dead corpse beneath the underpinning, as one may say, and hangs his frowning picture on the wall, and, after thus converting himself into an Evil Destiny, expects his remotest great-grandchildren to be happy there!”
This dialogue, spoken by Clifford in Chapter 17, neatly sums up the “moral” of The House of the Seven Gables, which states that the sins committed over the course of constructing a family fortune will bring the sinner and the sinner’s descendants more misery than wealth. In identifying the builder of the house as the cause of the misery the house has perpetuated, Clifford leaves no doubt that Colonel Pyncheon is to blame for the family’s misfortunes, and that his unchecked desire to accumulate wealth has brought him misery instead. This passage insinuates that the Colonel may not be motivated exclusively by selfish greed. The idea that the Colonel may have built the house “for his posterity to be miserable in” is certainly a pessimistic interpretation, but it raises the idea that the Colonel acts with future generations in mind. Obviously, the Colonel’s intentions go horribly awry, but the generous notion that he is building for someone other than himself does give him a glimmer of paternal appeal and serves as a testament to Hawthorne’s willingness to lend even the most villainous characters a touch of moral ambiguity.