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Essay on Analysis of "The Birthmark"

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Some say that beauty is only skin deep and believe that "inner beauty," is a whole lot more important. They are a small minority. Most of us strive for perfection in appearances--it may be our own personal appearance defined by the perfect clothes and the perfect look, the perfect home we live in, or the perfect car we absolutely must have. People today are no different today than they were in the 19th century, and we get an in depth understanding of the obsession with "being perfect" in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark." This short story is about a devoted scientist who marries a beautiful woman with a single physical flaw; a birthmark on her face. Aylmer becomes obsessed with the imperfection and needs to remove it, to be happy with his wife. The tale evolves around his progressive frenzy to use his scientific skills to render his bride perfect. Only imperfection is what nearsighted Aylmer sees in the birthmark on Georgiana's cheek. But he is unfortunately oblivious to the virtue in her soul, the deep beauty contained in the depth of her love for him. The wife's virtue leads her onward and upward; the husband's lack of it, and inability to appreciate virtue in his Georgiana makes him seem arrogant and selfish.

The theme of Hawthorne's story is that perfection is impossible and that there is always a price to pay for being vain. We must always be willing to take the good with the bad. When we try to impose our will on Nature we can get destroyed in consequence just as Georgiana was destroyed when the birthmark was removed. Hawthorne says, "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. As the l...


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... can be perfect. This can lead to empty and unfulfilling relationships.

With each new technological advance, we try to change nature and society, presumably for the better. Hawthorne is saying that we should not try to alter nature to make it perfect with science and technology. Especially so with innocuous things, like his wife's blemish. Furthermore, the closer we get to perfection, the more obsessed we get with it, and the more we lose sight of the fact that the innocuous blemishes are just that, innocuous blemishes. I don't think that Hawthorne had anything against science in general, even though his descriptions of Aylmer's laboratory were somewhat grotesque. But he is giving us a warning. Do not violate the sanctity of life. This is implied because it is Aylmer's insistence on trying to distort nature which leads to the death of his wife.



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