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Suspense in The House of the Seven Gables

            True to its roots as a Gothic novel, the atmosphere of The House of the Seven Gables broods with ambiguity and fear, with this uncertainty culminating in moments of heightened suspense. In these moments, author Nathaniel Hawthorne breeds tension with a terse syntactical style, igniting imagination with suggestive language, and frustrating the reader with a limited perspective. By presenting the reader with the anxious experience of extended mental uncertainty in a mode akin to realism, he calls into question the reader's ability to perceive their world with clarity and confidence, undermining certainty with the suggestion that experience itself is unreliable.
             Suspense, a state of extended uncertainty, begins when the reader becomes unsure of the events of the story; throughout the novel, we feel this unease mount each time the narrator ceases to provide commentary and begins only describing events as they happen. This devolution into paratactic style manifests itself most maddeningly in Hepzibah's discovery of Judge Jaffrey's demise. Though this is a crucial moment that alters the course of the novel, all we are given is that "She thrust herself past Clifford, and disappeared into the room, but almost immediately returned, with a cry choking in her throat" (250). A major discovery is reduced to a single sentence-four simply constructed clauses, containing naught but a subject-predicate replication of the most essential action. The terseness of this construction forces us into the action as we cling to the prominence of the verbs; yet upon seeing this basic reality, we wait in expectation of the additional commentary to come, as the narrator's penchant for elaborate explanation and insight into the minds of the characters has made us dependent on him for our knowledge. His choice to deprive us of this knowledge at this most critical time renders us powerless to understand the situation-we have all the facts, but are given no direction on how to interpret them.

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