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Tragedy in The Birthmarkby Nathaniel Hawthorne Essay

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In 1843, “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne was first published in a minor literary journal. It is a dark tale of an eighteenth century scientist’s obsession with a small, hand shaped birthmark on his wife’s face. Although, the mark did not bother him before their marriage, it becomes such an obsession for him and he can not think of anything but it’s removal from her otherwise perfect face. This imperfection and the incurable nature of mortality become the central idea in this story. In The Birthmark,” Hawthorne uses the fictional element of conflict to convey a pervading sense of torment and tragedy in this short story.
The first conflict that arises in “The Birthmark” is Alymer’s complete love for science versus the love for another human being. This was a time of great scientific exploration and discovery. Many began to see the pursuit of science as a form of worship. Hawthorne uses many words in this story commonly used in religious rhetoric such as miracles, repent, worthy of devotions and prays to affirm the strong connection of science and religion. The author shares with his readers that it was common during this time great scientific advancements for “the love of science to rival the love of woman in its depth and absorbing energy” (Hawthorne 1 ). This was certainly the case with Alymer and poor, beautiful Georgiana. This pursuit of scientific knowledge is an attempt to cheat mortality. If Alymer can perfect what Nature messed up, he can defeat imperfection and achieve his own sense of immortality. His love for science proves to be much stronger than his love for his wife and she pays the ultimate price for his desire for perfection.
The conflict of Alymer and the birthmark itself seems to be the m...


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...r on women”
While Alymer professes a great love for Georgiana, his true love is for science and the god-like sense of power that it brings him. Alymer’s past experiments, his dream and all of his surroundings tell him that his desires will be fatal to Georgiana, and yet he continues. The Birthmark is a sad tale of a man’s desire to perfect his wife rather than love her and the consequence of this desire is that she ends up perfectly dead. The many layers of conflicts, internal, interpersonal, social, in this short story climax together to show the tragedy of the pursuit of perfection and the folly of trying to cheat mortality.


Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Birthmark

Heilman, Robert B. “Hawthorne’s ‘The Birthmark’: Science as Religion.” South Atlantic Quarterly 48(1949): 573-83.


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