Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" gives a human face to Darwin and Gamble's academic debate concerning natural selection. In the story, Georgiana has a birthmark on her cheek that has been visible her entire life, but was just starting to agitate her husband, Aylmer. He used science to successfully rid his wife of the birthmark, but the procedure was fatal. The process that the couple went through appears to be a response to the theory of natural selection, with her death as the ultimate conclusion. This essay will examine the theory, the story, and the link between them.
While Darwin and Gamble's theses contain multiple arguments and have multiple conclusions, the most important of them is the notion of natural selection. In Descent of Man, Darwin summarizes his argument by saying, "through the contest of rival males…[and] from the general struggle for life…the characters gained will have been transmitted to the offspring." (Darwin 6). It is contended that change among a given species is spontaneous (and normal), and sometimes the change is good (insofar as it adds a positive trait or traits to the organism), and sometimes it is bad. Those organisms with good changes will be fit to gather food and protect offspring, and those that are less fit will be less apt to do this. Extending the logic of this statement, the fit will survive, and the weak will die. The argument of whether or not one gender has become superior to another within the same species is irrelevant to Natural Selection. However, Darwin and Gamble bring this dispute to each of their respective works. Since they agree on the original concept of the survival of the fittest, their disagreements are reconcilable.
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...t is my contention that the application of the theory of natural selection to society and humanity is relatively unimportant, when compared with the application of the theory to evolution. Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" was a very timely interpretation of the events surrounding the emergence of the theory of natural selection. It shows the reader that the academic debate between Darwin and Gamble has a human face, and that all of us can learn from Aylmer's mistake, and Aminadab's nobility.
1. Darwin, Charles. "Sexual Selection in Relation to Man." The Descent of Man. New York: Prometheus Books, 1998. 576-586.
2. Gamble, Eliza Burt. "The Supremacy of the Male." The Sexes in Science and History. New York: G.P. Putnam Sons, 1916. 74-92.
3. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Birthmark." Anthology of American Literature. New York: McMillan, 1985. 1159-1169.
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