Hawthorne himself perceived this change taking place in women's lives so that
a woman of an older generation could hardly grasp the new identity, outlook,
and freedom of a younger woman. He shows this contrast between Hepzibah and
Phoebe throughout The House of the Seven Gables, particularly in the
chapter, "May and November."
Hepzibah muses, "with a grim smile, and a half-natural sigh, and a sentiment
of mixed wonder, pity, and growing affection,--
"'What a nice little body she is! If she could only be a lady, too!--but that's
impossible! Phoebe is no Pyncheon. She takes everything from her mother.'
"As to Phoebe's not being a lady, or whether she were a lady or no, it was
a point, perhaps, difficult to decide…. Instead of discussing her claim to
rank among ladies, it would be preferable to regard Phoebe as the example
of feminine grace and availability combined, in a state of society, if there
were any such, where ladies did not exist. There it should be woman's office
to move in the midst of practical affairs, and to gild them all…with an atmosphere
of loveliness and joy."
[This comparison between Phoebe and Hepzibah] "was a fair parallel between
new Plebianism and old Gentility....".
As we can see from the number of the narrator's qualifying phrases and apparent
conundrums, he is groping towards a solution to the vexing question himself
of categories for defining women that seem to have vanished with the arrival
of confident Phoebe's self-definition of new womanhood oblivious to "lady-hood."
Although this example speaks to the issues of class, the problem for society
is clear: women's lives are changing and the old ways of understanding them
have become obsolete. I agree with Margaret Moore that "Hawthorne was certainly
aware of and sympathetic to the restrictions on women" (250). At the same time,
as Nina Baym notes, "Cautiously, Hawthorne advances the notion that if society
is to be changed for the better, such change will be initiated by women. . .
."(Women's Fiction 73).