The Fate of Women in The Birthmark

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The Fate of Women in “The Birthmark”

Wilson Sullivan in “Nathaniel Hawthorne” in New England Men of Letters states that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale, “The Birthmark,” depicts the efforts “of a deranged scientist to obtain total perfection” in his wife by removal of a facial blemish. In this story the scientist operates on the superficial level of the physical world, while the woman, the truly heroic woman, functions on the level of the heart and soul, the more significant level. She it is who in her virtue provides for the reader an example to live by, even though she loses her life in the process. This essay hopes to explore the status, role, attitude toward women and other such issues.

Alfred Kazin in the Introduction to Selected Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne comments regarding the central idea in the author’s short stories: “In story after story the given element, the central and unifying element, is what moves and stirs within us, the mysterious springs of our every action, our “soul”(Kazin 14). The secret to understanding the role and concept of women in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale, “The Birthmark” lies in the reader’s appreciation of Kazin’s statement above. The woman who sets a shining example for the reader is a specialist in soul development, whereas her counterpart, the male scientist, is a scientist of the physical world only. Another literary critic, in “Hawthorne’s Use of Mythology,” relates his similar interpretation of the essence of Hawthorne’s stories: “Everything he has to say is related, finally, to ‘that inward sphere.’ For the heart is the meeting-place of all the forces – spiritual and physical, light and dark, that compete for dominance in man’s nature. . . .” (McPherson ...

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...horne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

McPherson, Hugo. “Hawthorne’s Use of Mythology.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Stewart, Randall. “Hawthorne’s Female Characters.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Sullivan, Wilson. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” In New England Men of Letters. New York: Macmillan Co., 1972.

Swisher, Clarice. “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Williams, Stanley T. “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
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