The Birthmark Novel Analysis
In The Birthmark Aylmer wanted Georgiana to continue to be perfect inorder for him to love her and be with her. And for that to happen she had to agree with him that she wasn’t perfect but would do anything to be perfect so that they could be together and so he could fully love her. This then makes her become an object to him, there is no such thing as a human being perfect because perfection is defined in so many ways but to Aylmer just couldn’t look past her birthmark.
Before truly loving someone you have to be able to look past their imperfections and for Aylmer this was impossible he was willing to risk her life for the small chance that he would make her perfect.
Greed is all apart of our human nature and this is what Aylmers desire he wanted to make her perfect so that he could fully love her. Aylmer’s want to change Georgiana and make as he wants her perfect is eventually going to end in a disaster because perfection does not exist. Georginana is someone who is known by many as the perfect person well is perfect as can get everyone seems to want her and accept her as she is except Aylmer. Why is everyone else willing to accept her as she is except Aylmer not only wants her to be a perfect person but he wants to make an experiment out of her. This turns her into a protect for him not caring about her safety and wellbeing.
In The Birthmark it seems to be a magical as well as scientific range of experiments. It proves that nature is what is the most powerful thing because if we do not except this then what can we truly love. We would be loving things that are not true. False things that have to be altered in order for someone to be perfect to someone else. Aylmer is guilty for trying to change Georgiana the attempt to try and control nature with science and she is guilty for allowing him to and believing that it is ok and thinking it is right. Georgiana’s birthmark also reflects the power of nature because it who she is and inorder for people to think it is beautiful she also has to believe it for herself. At the end of The Birthmark it comes down to nature and loving as they are but since Aylmer was unable to love Georgina for her birthmark and Georgina was unable to love herself it ended in tragedy and unhappiness.
My Analysis of The Birthmark
- 1 My Analysis of The Birthmark
- 2 Works Cited
My Analysis of The Birthmark
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a romantic era writer. Romantics were literary rebels who wrote about strong emotions, the supernatural and the power of nature (Yates). Romantic love is one of the strongest emotions there is, for example; Romeo and Juliet willing to die because they could not be together.
Georgiana was willing to die because her birthmark disgusted her husband that she loved. But Alymer was not willing to live with a little flaw that God placed on the cheek of the woman that he loved. I don’t believe that could have been me. I think I would have had to just move on because I believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What Alymer thought was disgusting someone else would have been willing to live with, Georgiana and her birthmark.
Georgiana you have led me deeper than ever into the heart of science (Hawthorne). What would make Alymer make such a statement? Was it Alymer’s love for Georgiana and his love of science combined that motivated him to try to rid his wife of the birthmark.
Why was Georgiana willing to die to please her spouse? Today in 2018 that would not happen, I don’t think. Other suitors had told Georgiana that the birthmark enhanced her beauty, why did it repulse Alymer? Aminadab, Alymer’s assistant, said that he would never part with the birthmark.
I have already administered agents powerful enough to do aught except to change your entire physical system (Hawthorne). Alymer knew what he had already given Georgiana, why did he not listen to her when she burst into the laboratory rather than questioning her trust of him? Why did he not ask her if there was something wrong? Why did he not ask her how she was feeling knowing that he had already given her something strong enough to change her entire physical system. Why did Georgiana not tell him her symptoms rather than letting him side track her with questions about trust?
But, being what I find myself, me thinks I am of all mortals the most fit to die (Hawthorne). I wonder why Georgiana made this statement? I think at this point Georgiana knew that she was dying or going to die. I think she knew that nothing was going satisfy Alymer except curing her of her horrific birthmark. I don’t think that Alymer would have ever been content to live with his wife with her birthmark, so Georgiana chose death rather than suffering for a lifetime with his disapproval, unhappiness, and disgust.
How would it have changed the story if Georgiana was the person who was obsessed with the birthmark (thought that it was hideous) and she had forced Alymer (who thought it was beautiful) to remove the birthmark? What do you think would have happened had she lived?
By completing and submitting this assignment I agree that: I have neither given nor received help on this test/assignment. I am in compliance with the Cleveland Community College Academic Honesty policy. The work is my own and proper documentation was completed.
- Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Birthmark. CCC Blackboard ENG 231 Fall 2018, edited by Tajsha N. Eaves, Cleveland Community College. clev.blackboard. Accessed 3 December 2018.
- Yates, Kimberly. The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Summary, Analysis, and Symbolism. Study.com, Study.com, 1 Mar. 2018, study.com/academy/lesson/the-birthmark-by-nathaniel-hawthorne-summary-analysis.html. Accessed 6 Dec. 2018.
Literary Analysis The Birthmark by Nathanial Hawthorne
“Let the attempt be made, at whatever risk. The danger is nothing to me … while this hateful mark makes me the object of your horror and disgust, life is a burden which I would fling down with joy. (Hawthorne, 2016) This passage is one of the most telling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s main character in The Birthmark, Aylmer, a chemical scientist, and a perfectionist.
In this thrilling yet bleak short story, Hawthorne brings to life the boldness and snobbishness in his character, Aylmer. It is noted that in this tale, Hawthorne weaves a detailed and complex argument that The Birth-Mark’ stands as an alchemic allegory, explaining that the relationship between the characters exemplifies a somewhat explosive chemical reaction (Howard, 2012).
According to Bibligraphy.com, in 1804, Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Massachusetts. Because of the time period, Puritans was a major influence (Editors, 2014). Hawthorne is thought to be in the genre of American Romanticist whose style was swayed by Henry James, William Faulkner, and Herman Melville (Nowatzki, 2010). In his writing, Hawthorne seeks to advance and enlighten his subjects who, in his stories, are living within the normal society, are somehow separated from the norm. This is by situations often beyond their control. Hawthorne tends to use continuing themes in his writing style, such as alienation, guilt, pride treated as evil, and allegory (Howard, 2012).
“The Birthmark,” tells the story of scientist Aylmer who marries a beautiful woman, the woman of his dreams, Georgina. He loves her and sees her be perfect until he notices a birthmark on her face. Their marriage was seemingly perfect until that time, but soon after, the birthmark takes over his emotions and his mind. The blemish was in the center of his wife’s cheek, crimson red, and was shaped like a miniature hand. Georgina’s past lovers felt completely different than her husband; they loved her birthmark. Howard notes that her exes often said that some fairy at her birth hour had laid her tiny hand upon the infant’s cheek and left this impress there in token of the magic endowments that were to give her such sway over all hearts. (Howard, 2012) These men would have done anything to have the same woman whose husband couldn’t stand the sight of her because of this imperfection (Pearson, et al, 2013).
The mark was symbolic. Something so innocent which caused her murder. The blemish disappeared when she blushed red, the color of the mark. However, as her blush faded, the mark came back even stronger, appearing as though it were a crimson stain upon the snow, which tended to frighten Aylmer in its imperfection. He feels the birthmark ruins her and their relationship, and he gets so completely obsessed that he begins to dream of removing the imperfection, the birthmark. He cuts so deeply in his dreams that the blemish ends up in her heart. This shows how Aylmer, and in turn Hawthorne, believe that imperfection goes deeper then what is seen on the outside.
Howard (2012) shares that the tie between the blemish and Georgina is a reference to the association between the blemish and the life that Georgina led. With the mark leading to her heart makes it appear that Aylmer loves Georgina. However, Aylmer is out of control, cold and calculating, with an evil heart. The scientist is unrealistically determined, to return his wife to a perfect state. He is finally able to, through his knowledge of science, rid his wife of the blemish. Yet, removing that was a part of her caused her to die. So, it is, in the end, that Aylmer’s pride finally destroys beautiful Georgina who would have loved him for his entire life.
Howard (2012) likens Aylmer to Jekyll and Hyde, a gothic novel about another scientist who goes irrational, in that the ending of both stories represent the same pattern: death at the hands of a cruel, miscalculating science. Analysts discuss Aylmer’s extreme egotistic behavior and attitude. This, in which, can be seen from his constant use of the personal pronouns like I, me, and mine; demonstrating to the reader that all emphasis is on himself. He wants all attention, focus, and rewards to be focused on him, and this makes him feel powerful and successful. In The Birthmark, as well as other works by Hawthorne, the author is genuinely concerned about why people respond to events in certain ways and begs the question of what the moral nature is, as well as the consequences of such behavior, both on themselves and on those who are close to them. The Birthmark also sheds light on the potential fear of men regarding the fundamental differences between men’s and women’s bodies, and the perfection that is desired from a husband of a wife (Howard, 2012).
“The Birthmark,” strives to be a romance and encourages the reader’s compassion, but it also seeks to teach a few lessons, such as pride is a necessary thing in achieving success in a task, however, if pride is too extensive, it can be detrimental in scientific and medical research (Howard, 2012). Additionally, it should be gathered by the reader that medical professionals must be able to let go of a little of their analytical qualities and weave in a bit of empathy into their intellect. Finally, the readers are encouraged to never forget that it is rarely a good idea for medical professionals, scientists, and doctors to treat anyone who is close to them, like family and spouses, and most importantly, physicians are to never do any harm to patients (Pearson, 2013).
The problem, in the end, with Aylmer, was his pride and his obsessive need for perfection, not only in himself but in those around him. Perhaps if Georgina had not been so flawless in every other respect, Aylmer could have dealt with the blemish. Instead, the scientist felt that the blemish was stealing perfection from her, and by that, stealing perfection from himself. The defect, which was minimal and appreciated by other men, grew more and more menacing to him until he, subconsciously, perhaps, would rather not have Georgina at all than to have her flawed.
Perfection In Story The Birthmark
Kim Kardashian, Belcalis Almanzar (Cardi B), and Onika Tanya Maraj (Nicki Minaj) are all women people look to for the ideal thought of perfection. Each of these women has an hourglass figure, clear skin, and a flat stomach. It’s easy for people to belittle themselves when compared to women like this because people are taught to believe that they are the epitome of perfection.
These women were not born the way they look now though, each one of the women named has surgical work done on them to reach the perfect state they’re at now. In the short story The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a scientist named Aylmer believed perfection was attainable with help from science, but when he actually reaches perfection by removing, his wife, Georgina’s birthmark he pays the cost with her life. Georgina’s death is proof that if one tries to reach for perfection by changing any physical feature, they are actually killing what makes them, them.
Nathaniel Hawthorne is an American novelist and short story writer who was born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. His fiction works are mostly categorized as dark romanticism. His themes often center on the inherent evil and sin of humanity, and most of the time his work has moral messages and deep psychological complexity. Hawthorne’s short story The Birthmark was written in the year 1843. The story has a total of two main characters and one supporting character. Aylmer is a scientist who has put a hold on his career and life of experiments to marry Georgiana. Georgina was described as physically gorgeous, except for a small hand-shaped birthmark on her left cheek. Both are in love and get married, but Aylmer becomes unnaturally obsessed with the birthmark on Georgiana’s cheek. Aylmer was so obsessed it got to the point where he had dreams of cutting her birthmark off. Georgiana found out that her husband was appalled by her birthmark, so she decided that she would risk her life having the birthmark removed from her cheek if it meant that Aylmer’s disgust that overruns him when he sees her would disappear as well.
The next day, Aylmer decides to take Georgiana where he has his laboratory. This is where the third character is introduced, Aminidab, Aylmer’s assistant. Aminidab is characterized as a hulking and somewhat dirty man, he is an able helper but disaproves of Aylmer’s desire to erase Georgiana’s birthmark. Aminadab represents the physical nature of man and his disapproval and disgust represent sort of a strong incrimination on Aylmer. Aylmer glances at his wife casually but can’t help but shudder violently at seeing her imperfection, he was determined to fix her. After a while of conversation between the two, Georgiana agrees to drink a potion Aylmer created for her despite his warning that it might be dangerous. Aylmer brings a newly created potion which he tests on a plant nearby causing it to rejuvenate with only a few drops. Georgina then drinks the potion and quickly falls asleep. Aylmer watches the birthmark fade little by little, which brings him inner happiness. Once it is nearly gone, Georgiana wakes up and is pleased to see the results. However, the potion had side effects, and Georgiana soon tells her husband that she is dying. Once the birthmark fades completely, Georgiana dies along with it.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birthmark Response Paper
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story The Birthmark is the story of how one man’s obsession killed his wife. Aylmer is a man of science and the husband of Georgiana. Georgiana is absolutely perfect in Aylmer’s eyes, except for the birthmark on her cheek in the shape of a tiny hand. His obsession of her birthmark drives Aylmer and his assistant, Aminadab, to develop an elixir that will remove it, and his hatred of it and inability to look at the mark without obvious disgust drives Georgiana to hate it more than Aylmer, and to her demise.
The extent of Aylmer’s disgust is important to the story, because without that obvious hatred of the mark, Georgiana would not have become so self-conscious about it and agree so easily for it to be removed. Aylmer is constantly and openly discussing and/or displaying his disapproval of the flaw. The first dialogue in the story is between Aylmer and Georgiana, and Aylmer asks, Georgiana, has it never occured to you that the mark upon your cheek might be removed? (Mays, 340). This is only the beginning of his blatant disapproval of the birthmark.
Later in the story, Georgiana begs Aylmer not to look at her birthmark again as she covers it with her hand and states I never can forget that convulsive shudder. (Mays, 344). From her reaction, we can deduce that with every remark Aylmer makes and/or every action and expression from the birthmark makes Georgiana more resentful of the mark itself. She starts to blame herself for her husband’s obsession, and she decides that it would be too much to live with, so she is willing to put her life on the line in order to have the birthmark removed and to make her husband happy.
There is room to believe that Aminadab knows precisely what the outcome will be. Aylmer gives Aminadab an order to burn a pastil (Mays, 343), but before doing so, Aminadab gazes at the unconscious Georgiana and says under his breath, if she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark. (Mays, 343). This statement tells us many things. First, Aminadab does not completely agree with Aylmer’s choices. Second, Aminadab may even have feelings for Georgiana, because he is basically stating that there is a man out there that will love Georgiana as she is without trying to change her and make her perfect. Then later in the last paragraph, Aminadab laughed a hoarse, chuckling laugh (Mays, 350). He was given permission to laugh by Aylmer before it was revealed that Georgiana was dying, but Aminadab waited until after she completely passed to laugh. Aminadab saw the irony in the outcome of the experiment and he believed that Aylmer deserved it for trying to change his wife for his own personal selfishness.
The last paragraph also reveals a lot about Aylmer. Georgiana tells him that she is dying. Aylmer observes her life fading and is overcome with several emotions, including failure in his experiment, failure to his wife, anger at himself for becoming so obsessed, and he feels stupid for allowing him to risk the life of the woman he loved for something so miniscule. The last paragraph states Yet, had Aylmer reached a profounder wisdom, he need not thus have flung away the happinesshe failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of time to find the perfect future in the present (Mays, 350). As we can tell, Aylmer truly did love Georgiana, but he allowed his obsession of her birthmark consume him and that leads to the irony that is the end of the story: in an attempt to make Georgiana perfect, he took away her humanity. No human is perfect, and as Georgiana’s only flaw was her birthmark, Aylmer unintentionally killed her.
Main Themes In The Birth-Mark Novel
In the short story The Birth-Mark Nathaniel Hawthorne brought to us several themes in this story, but the main theme we can see here in the passage is submission and sacrifices. The blindness obedience of women in the past to their husbands. Here the main idea of this passage is the wife’s wishes of being perfect as possible through her husband eyes, even if it means that to be perfect in his eyes might cause her own death.
In the nineteenth century, the Christian household would obey their house leader or the father as close as God. Aylmer plays a good role in recognizing this fact and he acts as God. Aylmer knows that his wife will die but he doesn’t care at all his foolishness was a blinding his eyes. Adding Georgina’s reaction to Aylmer’s idea, Aylmer’s foolishness becomes bigger and bigger.
At the beginning of the story, Aylmer mentions his dream to Georgina of cutting of the birthmark that Georgina has on her check. As a result of this, the petty Georgina encourages her husband Aylmer to give it a try and make her flawless. This reaction of Georgians to Aylmer’s dream appeals because of her infinite obedience to her husband, not because of her agreeing to be flawless. The idea of being the house leader and get all the enthronement and obedience was controlling a lot of the Christian household in the nineteenth century. This is one of the main causes that affect Georgina’s actions toward her husband.
In this passage, Aylmer brings Georgiana and immediately she faints in his laboratory. Aminadab appears in the story, as Aylmer’s assistant, he represents the nature of the acceptance of the things as they are (nothing is perfect, everyone has flaws). Which is the concept that Aylmer cannot stand it or see? When Georgiana wakes up and amazed by the beauty and the smell of the room that Aylmer prepared for her. It took Georgiana a moment to realizes where she is, and immediately she covers her birthmark with her hand while she is lying on the bed. She asks Aylmer to not look at her birthmark because she prefers to die instead of Aylmer looking at her with flaws. Aylmer starts to cheer her up by showing her some of his scientific experiments, these experiments turn out to be illusions that Aylmer’s mind has created. These illusions make Aylmer feels like he has some supernatural power over the world and nature. While Aylmer working, Aylmer start to talk about alchemy (the scientific branch that changes things into gold) Aylmer has faith in it and thinks that it is possible, but he also believes that it needs a huge moral sense for using it. Also, he believes that he could create another a life elixir that could change someone mortal, but to consider that, it could lead to a violation of nature and the misery of the drinker’s life. Georgina is surprised of Aylmer’s thoughts about these kinds of power, but Aylmer persuades her that he will never actually do these types of discoveries. He is just comparing these discoveries to the birthmark experiment as nothing compared to them. Aylmer is blind to the fact that his birthmark experiment has some moral consequences too. The life elixir and alchemy both have moral issues regarding it to the drinker, but Aylmer can’t see the moral effect of his experiment on his pride.
While Aylmer is working, Georgiana’s eyes fall on the books placed on Aylmer’s lab, these books mention the history of other scientists who have some famous discoveries. All of these scientists have the same belief of having some kind of supernatural power over nature. These books demonstrate the long journey of the conflict between nature and science. In addition, of Aylmer who is trying to follow the same steps that the previous scientist has stepped. Georgiana as well starts to read some of Aylmer’s articles and realizes that he failed most of his goals of what he aimed for. The journal represents here the imperfection of Aylmer, he is totally far away of what he imagines of himself, despite the fact of requesting perfection from his pride. After reading Aylmer’s journals that are full of failure, Georgiana loves Aylmer more and more with is imperfection, even though he loves her less for who is she. Aylmer ger upset when he finds Georgiana reading his journal, Georgiana explains for his that nothing has changed the only thing that might change is her admiration of him will increase. The fact that Aylmer becomes very upset of Georgiana reading his journal, it might explain the reason why he wants to succeed in the birthmark experiment, he will have a perfect wife, which will make him close to perfection as well. Georgiana enters the inner room of the laboratory and gets amazed by the machines and instruments that she saw. Aylmer sees Georgiana in the inner room and become mad and suspect her of not trusting him enough. Georgiana replies that he is not confident about the experiment and he is just pretending, and she asked Aylmer to be honest with her because she will do anything he asked even if he asked her to drink poison. Here we can see again total submission of Georgiana to her husband. Furthermore, Georgiana’s feelings about her birthmark, she prefers to drink poison rather than having it on her face the rest of her life. Aylmer says that he tried to treat the birthmark before but there was no result, and there is only one option which is dangerous. Georgiana starts to think about her husband and get amazed by him more, for searching for perfection rather than accepting something less. Which appears here that more Aylmer’s imperfection the more submission Georgiana has for him.
Aylmer enter the room with a colorless liquid which is the medicine, Aylmer pours the liquid into a plant that has blemishes on its leaves, and the plants become totally pure green. All of this is just to assure to Georgiana that the cure is perfect. Georgiana tells Aylmer that he didn’t need to do that because she has a complete trust of him. She takes the liquid and drinks it, she loved the liquid and she says that he satisfies a dehydration she felt for a couple of days. After that falls into deep sleep, Aylmer starts writing down every in details all changes in his wife, he kissed Georgiana on her birthmark, even though he is disgusted from it, but all the sudden he feels connected to it. Slowly, the birthmark starts to fade like a shadow and disappear. Aylmer is enjoying his success, so he is finally meeting his goal. At the same time, the narrator explains that while the mark disappears there is also something beautiful is taken away from Georgiana’s face. Aylmer open the curtains and the sunlight goes through the windows to fall on Georgiana’s face, Aminadab starts congrats Aylmer on their success. The appearance of sunlight and nature together represents the power of nature. Georgiana opens her eyes and sees her reflection on the mirror, she felt glad burthen she started to worry and express her emotion to Aylmer, but he didn’t understand her, he felt that she must be glad because she is perfect now. Aylmer is in an unaware moment of happiness that he finally could’ve to make science and nature work together, and he believes that he just created a perfection.
At the end Georgiana starts telling Aylmer that while he tries to get his high ambitions he rejected the best the earth could offer and she tells him that she is dying, her soul is connected to the birthmark, and now as the birthmark disappeared her soul is talking away from her body going up to heaven. While Georgiana is dying, she didn’t start blaming her husband on losing her life instead she comforts and praises him. Even though Aylmer has succeeded in his experiment, he didn’t but into account that perfection can’t exist on earth. Aylmer didn’t appreciate the best he had he was insatiable searching for perfection.
Symbolism in The Birthmark
Allegory is common in Hawthorne’s writing and his use of symbolism. His use of symbols not only forces the reader to dig deeper but it also causes readers to interpret his stories differently from one another. The different uses of symbolism in the story aid the reader in using the subtext to derive more meaning and further try to understand what exactly Hawthorne was trying to express in his writing. Much of what can be read in The Birthmark pertains deeper allegorical meanings than what the reader may read originally. The birthmark on Georgiana’s face is a symbol of mortality and represents man’s imperfections, the very imperfections that make her human. .
The main character in this story is Aylmar, he is described in the beginning of the story as a man of science, an eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy (Hawthorne 319). He also has a love of nature, a love for nature that may go too deep and affects the marriage he is in with Georgiana. Georgiana is Aylmar’s wife who is described as a woman of beauty with one imperfection. Little does the reader know that this imperfection would be the demise of Georgiana. This one imperfection is Georgiana’s small, red, hand-shaped birthmark that lay upon her left cheek. This birthmark symbolizes mortality. Without the birthmark she is otherwise perfect, it’s simply a blemish that marks her as mortal.
The birthmark on Georgiana’s face is described as being shaped like a small hand. The shape of it plays a role in symbolism as well. The shape might symbolize the hand of God. It’s as though God himself laid his hand upon her personally while crafting her into perfection. Hawthorne is specific in mentioning that it’s the shape of a human hand, which then complicates the idea of it being the hand of God, further symbolizing that the birthmark on Georgiana’s cheek is a mark of her humanity and mortality.
Aylmer is repulsed by his wife’s blemish and asks his wife has it never occurred to you that the mark on your cheek might be removed? (Hawthorne 319). Taken aback by such a statement from her husband of whom she thought loved her unconditionally, she fires back, deeply hurt by his remarks and begins crying. Aylmer’s feelings towards her birthmark symbolize the misinterpretation of the symbol on his wife’s face. It leads him astray and suggests that he feels horrors towards the prospects of death and mortality. Although he is a smart man, he mistakenly comes to believe that if he were to remove the imperfection from his otherwise perfect wife’s face, he might be able to prolong her life, and make her perfect. He tells his wife you came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly perfection.” (Hawthorne 319). On a literal level Aylmer wants to rid his wife of what he see’s as unattractive but on a symbolic level he wants to rid his wife of her flaws.
Aylmer begins experimenting in his lab with his assistant Aminadab. Aminadab is a willing assistant but in the story it is clear that he is disgusted with the way Aylmer is treating his wife and disagrees with his desire to remove the birthmark when he states under his breath, If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark. (Hawthorne 322). Aminadab seems to feel more compassion towards Georgiana than her own husband does and he understands that imperfections aren’t always what make someone unattractive. Although Aminadab feels this way about Aylmer, he helps him further. Aylmer begins developing a potion that hopefully will be capable of removing physical flaws, such as freckles and other blemishes. Georgiana wants her husband to succeed because she wants to please him. She worships him and succumbs to his unreasonable demands despite her suspicions that they might kill her. He formulates and practices. He has a couple failed attempts and then eventually is successful in making the special potion.
With this potion Aylmer both succeeds and fails. He is finally able to rid his wife of what he sees as an imperfection. Aylmer gives Georgiana the potion to drink, she drinks its, willingly. As she’s drinking it she’s imagining it as water from a heavenly fountain but then immediately begins getting tired. She tells her husband to let her sleep. Aylmer notices the birthmark slowly start to fade. He exclaims I can scarcely trace it now. Success! Success! (Hawthorne 328). The birthmark, which was once deep crimson, was now blush pink, the deep red color was fading and so was Georgiana’s life. Aylmers excitement woke his wife from her slumber, she noticed how her birthmark has almost vanished but quickly interrupted her husbands cheers with sadness. She was dying. As Georgiana took her last breath her birthmark completely faded from her face. The birthmark represented her soul. As her soul faded so did the blemish. Her husband sat with her as she passed, gazing upon this now perfect woman who now was beginning her journey into heavenward flight. It wasn’t until this moment that Aylmer realized he had a perfect woman all along.
The fatal hand had grappled with the mystery of life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in union with a mortal frame. (Hawthorne 328). The hand on her cheek represented her life, her soul and her mortality. The hand on her face was her life and soul holding on to her. It was her frame of life. It connected her soul and her body. Although his intentions are good, Aylmer is a selfish and unkind man whose decisions ultimately killed his perfectly imperfect wife.
Beauty, Horror and Morality in Hawthorne’s “The Birth-Mark”
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic work, “The Birth-mark”, the central character, Aylmer, expresses his disgust with the mark’s ability to diminish his wife’s aesthetic beauty, as well as betray her mortal tendency to sin. The hand on Georgiana’s cheek proves to represent the “fatal flaw of humanity … to imply that they are temporary and finite” (2205). This obsession reveals his deep fear of death and mortality. He mistakenly believes that if he is able to rid his wife of the blemish, he will sever the tie between his wife and her mortality, creating the perfect woman. Hawthorne utilizes allusions, diction and imagery to explore the divisions of beauty and horror in an attempt to highlight Aylmer’s aspiration to reform Georgiana into a beautiful work of art that transcends her own mortality.
The diction exercised in the Eve of Powers reference reveals Aylmer’s compulsion to transform Georgiana into a flawless sculpture while simultaneously purifying her of her mortality. Furthermore, Hawthorne’s reference to the Eve of Powers reveals Aylmer’s obsession with the purity and whiteness of marble. The language of Hawthorne’s allusion defines Aylmer’s irrational view of perfect beauty. By equating Georgiana’s birthmark with a “stain” on the “purest statuary marble”, he is drawing attention to the impurity the mark suggests (Hawthorne 2205). While some would consider this irregularity as beautiful, Aylmer perceives it as horrific. The presence of these blue veins would humanize the statue of Eve to the point where it appeared as a monstrosity. This reflects Aylmer’s view of how the birthmark reveals Georgiana’s mortality and, in turn, diminishes her beauty. The language of the work establishes the mark as a problem that Aylmer yearns to solve. By continuously referring to the mark as “singular”, he is reaffirming that this single imperfection is so “deeply interwoven” that it ruins “the texture and substance of her face” (Hawthorne 2204). This symbolizes that flaws and mortality are so deeply connected to humanity that it is impossible to separate the two. While Aylmer should have been alerted to this and abandoned his work, his mania causes him to overlook the obstacle, ultimately extinguishing Georgiana’s existence.
The marble metaphor established in the quotation about the Eve of Powers is repeated in the allusion to Pygmalion, where Hawthorne employs a mirrored structure in order to juxtapose the motives and results of Pygmalion and Aylmer’s endeavors. Pygmalion’s love inspires a god to grant life to his beautiful marble statue of the ideally beautiful woman. Inversely, Aylmer’s disdain for the birthmark leads him to transform his wife from a beautiful woman into a piece of art with statue-like perfection, extinguishing her life. While the sculptor chisels marble to produce the perfect woman, Aylmer hopes to employ science in order to overcome his wife’s defects. In his quest to make Georgiana immortal, he unwittingly confirms her transience. The disgust Aylmer feels causes Georgiana to fade “into a deathlike paleness” that makes “the Crimson Hand” stand out “like a bas-relief of ruby on the whitest marble” (Hawthorne 2206). The repeated fixation with a blemish on pure, white marble solidifies the idea that Aylmer believes that Georgiana’s otherwise untainted complexion and morality are marred by the birthmark. By comparing himself to Pygmalion, he is expressing confidence that he shares the sculptor’s ability to create the perfect woman. He rivals that his joy will be greater than “Even Pygmalion, when his sculpted woman assumed life” (Hawthorne 2207). Here, Aylmer is explicitly expressing his desire to transform Georgiana into a statue-like representation of perfection. What he does not consider is that she is not an empty shell like the marble used by Pygmalion. Where Pygmalion created life, Aylmer only succeeds in destroying it. While Aylmer succeeds in removing the mark that ties his wife to her mortality, his mistake also proves that such a flaw is necessary for life.
The reoccurring use of color imagery, specifically red and white, illuminates the horror Aylmer feels regarding the imperfection on Georgiana’s appearance and purity. Hawthorne uncovers this revulsion by constantly comparing Georgiana and the mark to a beautiful white object marred by a red defect. The redness of the birthmark, as well as the imagery used to describe it, symbolizes Georgiana’s energy and passion. The white object spoiled by the defect literally points to the imperfect complexion; however, it symbolically points to Aylmer’s need to control his wife and strip her of this power. The idea of the mark as a stain upon Georgiana’s virtuousness is repeated while forming the gruesome imagery of a “crimson stain upon the snow” (Hawthorne 2205). The image of red blood spreading on white snow indicates a loss of vitality and life. Snow is often used to stand for innocence and purity; therefore, the mark on Georgiana’s check is selected by Aylmer to signify his wife’s “liability to sin” (Hawthorne 2205). Sinning is part of mortality; therefore, if the mark represents Georgiana’s mortality then it must also embody her tendency to sin. Aylmer’s open abhorrence to the mark forces Georgiana to alter her self-perception. She begins seeing herself as “pale as a white rose” spoiled by the “crimson birth-mark” (Hawthorne 2210). This reflects Aylmer’s mindset that the mark disrupts the delicacy of her complexion, just as a red stamp would serve as a blight on a colorless rose. The language utilized to create this imagery” juxtaposes the allure felt by the narrator with the horror felt by Aylmer, demonstrated through the transition of “the rosiest beauty” into “a pale ghost” (Hawthorne 2210). Additionally, white is often employed to highlight the properties of transfiguration. This, of course, relates to Aylmer’s need to transform his wife into his vision of the perfect woman. Furthermore, When Georgiana blushes, the two colors are blended and her complexion causes the mark to become less defined. The act of blushing implies blood rushing to her face, which betrays her mortality. This serves as the narrator’s reminder that the boundary between her beauty and her flaw is undefined.
Hawthorne utilizes literary devices to reveal Aylmer’s obsession with transforming Georgiana into a statue in order to restore her beauty and absolve her of her mortality. Aylmer’s own mortality is likely responsible for his fascination with the subject. While he believes Georgiana’s physical flaw is an example of her mortality, his failures serve as a reminder of his.
What is Happiness Worth?: “The Birthmark” and “Wakefield”
Happiness is an ideal emotion that everyone wants to experience and will go to desperate measures to achieve. If one wants to explore the facets of how important happiness is for people to achieve, they will have to put themselves in the shoes of the main characters throughout the main characters in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s stories “The Birthmark” and “Wakefield.” The stories help people understand that the need for happiness is essential, but that actually achieving that happiness in real life is much harder to obtain unless one actively pursues it. The main characters in the stories, Aylmer and Wakefield, believe that self-inflicted disappointment, personal consequence, and risk of loss are worth it if the end result is happiness.
Aylmer believes that perfection is the only thing that can make him happy, so he highlights the birthmark on his wife, Georgiana, as an object of his disappointment that must be removed in order to make her perfect. He says that Georgiana “…Came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly imperfection” (Hawthorne 2). The imperfect birthmark clouds Aylmer’s mind with so much disappointment that he believes his happiness can only result from its removal. His disappointment leads him to look at his wife as more of an object that he wants to improve rather than someone he genuinely cares about. Aylmer starts to believe that the birthmark is a sign of evil, “…Causing him more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana’s beauty, whether of soul or sense, had given him delight” (Hawthorne 3). He is allowing his disappointment to morph into a fear that puts division in his marital relationship and closes off his mind to the true beauty that his wife embodies. The aspect of induced disappointment affects the lengths people will go to so they can be happy.
The need to remedy disappointment Aylmer experiences is also apparent in how Wakefield believes that moving away from home to observe his wife’s actions will cure his disappointment of not knowing whether or not she is faithful. Wakefield worries that if his wife suspected him dead or that he left her, “…Thou wouldst be woefully conscious of a change in thy true wife forever after” (Hawthorne 3). He is disappointed by his pessimistic outlook on what he thinks will happen while he is gone. His whole purpose for leaving his home is to alleviate his disappointment and become happy. While Wakefield is gone, he watches his wife to see how she “…Will endure her widowhood of a week…” (Hawthorne 3). Hawthorne creates doubt in Wakefield’s mind and causes him to go on the archetypal Task to test his wife’s faithfulness to their marriage and create happiness for himself. The disappointment he experiences originates from him not knowing his wife’s level of dedication and the only way he figures he can be happy is through leaving and studying her. As seen, happiness is worth looking for things that are disappointing in order to correct them and become happy, however, happiness is also worth the personal consequences that may arise as a result of the efforts to make oneself happy.
Aylmer in “The Birthmark” weighs the possibility of his happiness as more important than the consequences he might experience of weakening his relationship with his wife as a result of him only searching for his happiness and not hers. When talking about the relationship between Aylmer and Georgiana, the story says that Aylmer may care about his wife’s love, but that “…It could only be by intertwining itself with his love of science, and uniting the strength of the latter to his own” (Hawthorne 1). This perspective of the motivation of Aylmer to remove the birthmark makes it seem as if he is treating Georgiana as more of a science experiment rather that acting out of genuine care and concern. His attitude toward the birthmark exhibits the ideal of Nature vs. Mechanistic World because his intentions are to scientifically modify his wife to make her more appealing to him. Aylmer realizes that he did not know how important the removal of the birthmark was to him and the “…Lengths which he might find in his heart to go for the sake of giving himself peace” (Hawthorne 4). The hamartia of selfishness that Aylmer has rears its ugly head when the reader can see that he wants to remove the birthmark more for personal content rather than out of concern for his wife’s beauty. The consequence that Aylmer experiences is that the bond of his love with Georgiana weakens, and for him, turns into more of a superficial relationship to make himself happy.
The superficiality of Aylmer’s marital relationship is present in Wakefield’s long-term absence from his wife to investigate her loyalty, resulting in him experiencing the consequence of being alienated from society as a whole. While Wakefield walks, he disguises himself and walks bent over with his face down, “…As if unwilling to display his full front to the world” (Hawthorne 5). As a result of Wakefield shutting out the outside world and his reclusion from his personal life, he becomes the archetypal Outcast because he is forgotten and unnoticed by society. This feeling of insignificance governs the temperament of him and makes it more appealing to remain cut-off and antisocial than trying to insert himself back into people’s recognition. In his solitude, Wakefield managed to “…Give up his place and privileges with living men, without being admitted among the dead” (Hawthorne 6). He reaches the point where he is dead to the world because of his self-exile from it. The consequences that are experienced are worth the pursuit for happiness, however, the possibility of the loss of something important to the characters is a much more serious prospect that is weighed-out as being less important than finding happiness.
Aylmer’s dedication to his personal aim of achieving happiness by removing his wife’s birthmark goes awry when she dies from the procedures she underwent. After the birthmark was removed and Aylmer had begun to celebrate over his perfect wife, Georgiana announced she was dying, shattering Aylmer’s happiness when “…The parting breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere, and her soul, lingering a moment near her husband, took its heavenward flight” (Hawthorne 14). The risk of harm being done to Georgiana was dismissed and outweighed by the happiness Aylmer wanted to have and his unfailing confidence in scientific experimentation. He let his hubris shroud his fear of Georgiana’s well-being and the situational irony of her death after his successful procedure was not something he was prepared for. Georgiana’s death was too much for him to bear and “…He failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of the time, and, living once for all in eternity, to find the perfect future in the present” (Hawthorne 14). Aylmer is caught in so much disbelief and grief for what he caused that he has no hope for his future. The risk of Aylmer losing Georgiana was not as important as his happiness, but his plans to be forever happy backfired when what he deemed impossible became reality.
Aylmer’s plans to be happy backfired severely, however, in Wakefield’s case he lost 20 years of his life but decided it was more important to have this happen than risk sadness resulting from the possibility of his wife not being faithful. Even though Wakefield is re-united with his wife, it is possible that he could have, “…By stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever” (Hawthorne 7). As great as it was that after 20 years, Wakefield’s hopes were confirmed and his happiness was achieved, things could have gone in the polar opposite direction over that same amount of time. Wakefield was lucky that whenever he extended the time period of his wife’s test, she did not give up hop on him and find someone else to marry. Wakefield commits that “He will not go back until she be frightened half to death” (Hawthorne 4). This is a risky promise by Wakefield because he does not know how long this test will extend for or how strong his wife’s willpower to resist finding someone else to marry. The component of loss, which was evident in both stories, can play a huge role in whether or not a person achieves happiness.
A search for happiness that begins with recognizing disappointment and results in loss and personal consequence is still deemed as being worth the risk and strife that people may undergo. The characters Aylmer and Wakefield from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” and “Wakefield” are perfect exhibitions of this viewpoint. Although the search for happiness may seem trivial and simple, many people undergo that search while enduring much sadness.
Fragility of the Intellectual Male Psyche and Permanence of Humanity In The Birth-Mark
Laden with allegories, dualisms, and symbolism, Hawthorne’s “The Birth-Mark” makes light of a variety of multi-faceted and complex issues, foremost among them those of sexuality and humanity. While the character of Aylmer seems both emotionally and intellectually secure, his obsession with perfection when applied to the subject of his wife Georgiana reveals deeper, more disconcerting stigmas that reflect the insecurity and fragility of the intellectual male psyche, while simultaneously exposing the inescapable and essential quality of imperfection to the scheme of mankind.
The ultimate tragedy of this work is foreshadowed almost immediately from its onset, with the narrator ominously stating how Aylmer
“…had devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies, ever to be weaned from them by any second passion. His love for his young wife might prove the stronger of the two; but it could only be by intertwining itself with his love of science, and uniting the strength of the latter to its own” (Hawthorne 645).
This initial description of Aylmer truly depicts him as the ‘man of science’ he is said to be. In stating that Aylmer would be unable to be distracted from science by any ‘second passion,’ Hawthorne reiterates that anything other than his initial passion for natural philosophy would always only be at best of secondary importance. Even when the narrator states that Aylmer’s love for Georgiana may become stronger than his devotion to science, it is concurrently observed that this feat could only be achieved if the two passions joined forces, ‘intertwining’ and ‘uniting strength.’ Each of these depictions of Aylmer’s character reinforce the notion that his identity is essentially inseparable from science and the habituations that are associated with it, therefore laying the groundwork for the eventual exposé of the scientist’s innate insecurities, and subsequently, those of the intellectual population of the male gender.
The dualisms of “The Birth-Mark” reflect a plethora of distinct perspectives on the male psyche, while simultaneously reflecting viewpoints on themes of sexuality. The henchman character of Aminidab serves as the ideal foil to Aylmer, representing all he is not; crude, vapid, and most importantly, masculine. This masculinity allows Aminidab to look past the birth-mark and realize the beauty of Georgiana, stating that “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birth-mark” (Hawthorne 649). Whereas Aylmer is obsessed with the perfection of Georgiana, Aminidab is at peace with the imperfection that the birth-mark represents. This stark dichotomy between Aylmer, the intellectual, and Aminidab, the representative of common man at his most base form, reveals the truly peculiar character that Aylmer is, and provides the basis for the eventual disclosure of his unique sexual predicament. Furthermore, the sharp contrast between the ethereal boudoir and the earthly lab symbolizes multiple other sexual themes. As shown by Georgiana’s take on the dichotomy between the lab and boudoir,
“The first thing that struck her eye was the furnace, that hot and feverish worker, with the intense glow of its fire, which by the quantities of soot clustered above it seemed to have been burning for ages… The atmosphere felt oppressively close, and was tainted with gaseous odors which had been tormented forth by the processes of science. The severe and homely simplicity of the apartment, with its naked walls and brick pavement, looked strange, accustomed as Georgiana had become to the fantastic elegance of her boudoir,” (Hawthorne 653)
The potential biblical allusion to heaven and hell becomes clear, with the boudoir, a safe and beatific environment pitted against the ‘oppressive,’ ‘severe,’ nature of the lab. Further, the fact that Aylmer primarily works in the lab and Georgiana stays in the boudoir represents the sexual notion that females, the ‘fragile’ gender, can not handle the demands of an environment such as the lab. This supposition furthers the male-dominant ideal that drives the work, and contributes significantly to the central sexual conflict it revolves around.
The anti-scientific movement was one of the most prevalent sentiments throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, with Aylmer’s obsession with the removal of Georgiana’s titular birth-mark serving as a mirror image of this attitude. However, rather than merely attacking the scientific school of thought, Hawthorne uses this work as a personal assault on the psyche and character of the scientist himself. Rationalizing any female criticism of Georgiana’s imperfection by implying jealousy, Hawthorne notes, “Some fastidious persons – but they were exclusively of her her own sex – affirmed that the Bloody Hand, as they chose to call it, quite destroyed the effect of Georgiana’s beauty, and rendered her countenance even hideous” (Hawthorne 646), and justifying male acceptance of the birth-mark by implying infatuation and the common male obsession with the carnal and erotic, stating that
“Masculine observers, if the birth-mark did not heighten their admiration, contented themselves with wishing it away, that the world might possess one living specimen of ideal loveliness, without the semblance of a flaw” (Hawthorne 646)
Hawthorne effectively singles out the character of Aylmer as a male intellectual that is at odds with the birth-mark, a unique, monstrous hybrid of acceptance and disgust that fits no pre-established concept of coping with imperfection. This idiosyncratic characterization of Aylmer, a man who describes the birth-mark as a “crimson stain upon stain” with almost “fearful distinctness” (Hawthorne 646), establishes the basis for his depiction as a psychologically and emotionally frail being. In his obsession with the imperfection, and in his dangerously desperate attempt to remove the birth-mark, Aylmer reveals a distinctively Freudian perspective on the subject of sexuality. While indeed Aylmer is a man obsessed with achieving a sense of perfection that perhaps even he himself acknowledges to be unattainable, in the case of Georgiana, this desire for perfection doubles as a defense mechanism for his own sexual insecurity. In wanting to remove the birth-mark, despite the risk, despite the near perfection of Georgiana as she was, Aylmer in reality seeks to eradicate the sexuality of his wife that the ‘Crimson Hand’ represents. A deep-seated portion of Aylmer’s conscience hopes that Georgiana will return from their endeavor to remove the birth-mark changed completely, no longer a near perfect challenge to his own intellect and worldliness, and since yet another part of Aylmer knows that perfection is in fact unattainable by way of his previous “mortifying failures” (Hawthorne 650), his sexual confidence is secure in knowing that Georgiana will not, cannot, return flawless. However, while ultimately secure in his dominance of the female sex, Aylmer’s trifling necessity to himself be superior reveals the concerning nature of his own inherent sexual insecurity. Unable to accept the challenge of a near ideal counterpart, the subconscious of Aylmer must destroy any inkling of a confrontation to his established intellectual male psyche.
Ultimately, Georgiana’s destruction plays directly into the machinations of Aylmer’s subconscious, and though her passing may seem to be a tragedy, it is in fact a victory for the scientist’s pathetic, fragile psyche. His intellectual guise as having an obsession with ‘perfection’ reveals deeper, more disconcerting stigmas that reflect the insecurity and fragility of the intellectual male sexual complex, while simultaneously exposing the inescapable and essential quality of imperfection to the scheme of mankind.