Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birthmark: Understanding The Birthmark


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The story’s tone is one of romantic controversy, a dilemma at a high level of existence.  The scientist’s love for his craft competes very intensively with his newfound love for his wife.  It is also very psychological, strictly dealing with the raw mind of its subjects as if the ominous narrator told the story from inside their mind, rather than observe it from the outside.  He describes the processes that one may take to reach a certain degree of knowledge and to find the elixir of life, which is described in this story as the ultimate goal of the scientific community.  Also, the narrator is very opinionated about events in the story. 

            Georgiana is a fine wife, and a seemingly beautiful one, too.  Aylmer expresses deep affection towards his wife, but it is hinted from the beginning that his two passions in life will eventually have to come in conflict.  The meaning of the birthmark shifts suddenly in the end, but in the beginning, it is viewed as Georgiana’s ability to be imperfect and to sin.  It is in the shape of a human hand because an angel supposedly has a grip on her, linking her to the other world.  That is most men’s reactions, but some women viewed it as disastrous to her beauty.  Although Aylmer is not initially concerned with it, it eventually gets to him, obsessively occupying himself with it.  He would stare at it whenever he had a chance, and tried to be candid about it.  When it became apparent that Aylmer was quite concerned with this, Georgiana asked him to elaborate.  He was more disgusted by the mark than Georgiana assessed. Her most significant reply to him was “You cannot love what shocks you!”

            She is indeed compromising, offering her life in exchange for her husband’s contempt.  The bandwagon effect modifies Georgiana’s thinking towards the mark.  She then becomes critical of it, begging her husband to remove it in the name of their well being.  He devises a plan, and he compares himself to Pygmalion, because he is one historical figure that succeeded in his quest for beauty, and the gods approved of it.  I think that this meddling will not be readily approved of by any god.  What they did not know, but what she hinted at, was that this mark may be her link to life and spirits.

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  She had the blessing of an angel upon her face guaranteed by this visual contract.  The hand had its grip on her life.  Their rebellion was punished with the ultimate toll because he made the same mistake Adam made, literally.  If his operation would have succeeded, he could have been closer to being God.  In my opinion, the realistic reason why the experiment failed was more medical than occult.  It has been known that if you remove a mole, or any type of deformity of the skin, it could result in cancer or immediate death.

            At the entrance to Aylmer’s laboratory, Georgiana feels cold, scared, and tremulous.  If this story had a conscious and unconscious part, the laboratory would be the very conscious, and very sinful.  She is the creature of nature that is ready to be altered.  The birthmark protests in convulsions, as if warning her of the danger ahead.  He smiles at her to assure her, because he is in his domain now, and he is growing restless.  Finally, she faints under the pressures.  

            In the laboratory, it is obvious that Aylmer is obsessed with creating perfection.  The many things flashed before Georgiana’s eyes mildly interested her.  The flower presented, I think, is symbolic of his inability to maintain perfect objects.  The flower quickly dissipated before their eyes.  He made mistakes, and this should have been a sign to Georgiana that she should not trust his ability or his plan. 

            Aylmer is the forever seeking, forever blind man of science attempting to learn Nature, and to taste the apple of knowledge.  This kind of man will continue to be born, will continue to seek, and will continue to be punished.  His ultimate goal is to be master, and perhaps create his own little humans, his own little worlds, and to be crowned God.  Unfortunately, he is doomed to be blind forever.  Georgiana has the reverse role of Adam, whereas she would apprehensively accept the offer of the apple compelled by her companion, and receive the compounded punishment for her lapse in judgement.  Aminadab is the slave, the brute peasant, deceptively unknowing, but fundamentally correct.  This is communicated by the author in his description.  He is earthly, and would represent man’s physical nature, rather than cerebral.  His one line is highly significant, in that it describes him.  He says, “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark.”  He would rather behold the beauty of Nature’s work, than attempt to modify it in any way.  His brief reaction to his master’s failure is his hoarse chuckle, as if contempt with the punishment this damned sinner received.  I probably would have done the same.


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