Often billed as a story of an unsuccessful attempt to beat Nature at her own game, “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne certainly lends itself to a somewhat deeper interpretation. Over the years many scholars have noted that the story of Aylmer and Georgiana is riddled with traditional Hawthorne themes such as the evils of selfishness and pride, coupled with an element of solitariness (Arvin xvi). However, we are want to consider whether Aylmer’s motives in this story are purely selfish. Does this man perhaps deserve a touch of human sympathy?
With blazingly obvious symbolism, clearly defined by the author himself, the reader can choose to take the tale for what it seems to be, a purely selfish experiment gone awry. Yet, it seems as though Hawthorne was sympathetic to his man of science, leaving open for discussion the idea that love did exist in this sordid world of tiny hands and test tubes. Although it is at times ambiguous, the tone of the story seems to point to just this idea. Of it Richard Fogle writes:
“…Hawthorne’s attitude is so removed and imperturbable that nothing in the story can be taken simply; in “The Birthmark” he reaches his furthest rage of disengagement” (Fogle 118). It is through the intellectual and moral development of Georgiana, not the scientists own actions or words, that the reader comes to understand that although twisted in his methods, Aylmer does possess a kind of “noble” love.
When the story opens, we are told that “an experience of spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one” has caused “a man of science” to take leave of his laboratory and be married. The narrator also tells the reader it was not unusual, in ...
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...horne 165). Wife-less and left only with his hairy apprentice, Aylmer can at least rest assured that he “aimed loftily” and acted “nobly.”
Arvin, Newton. Introduction. Hawthorne’s Short Stories. Ed. Newton Arvin. New York: Vintage Books, 1946. v-xvii.
Fogle, Richard Harter. Hawthorne’s Fiction: The Light and The Dark. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964. 117-31
Fossum, Robert H. Hawthorne’s Inviolable Circle: The Problem of Time. Florida: Everett/Edwards Inc, 1972. 77-79
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birthmark.” Hawthorne’s Short Stories. Ed. Newton Arvin. New York: Vintage Books, 1946. 147-65.
Stein, William Bysshe. Hawthorne’s Faust: A Study of the Devil Archetype. New York: Archon Books, 1968. 91-92
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