Comparing Women in Rappaccini's Daughter, Prophetic Pictures, Lady Eleanor's Mantle, and Birth-Mark

Comparing Women in Rappaccini's Daughter, Prophetic Pictures, Lady Eleanor's Mantle, and Birth-Mark

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The Role of Women in Rappaccini's Daughter, The Prophetic Pictures, Lady Eleanor's Mantle, and The Birth-Mark


When researching criticism on Hawthorne's works, I ran across an interesting piece that dealt with the feminist view of "The Birth-Mark."  The article, written by Fetterly, explores the relationship between Aylmer and his wife, and how this relationship is a typical male-dominated situation.  Although there is the fact that the story deals with the failure of the scientist, there is an underlying current here of how Aylmer views his wife: in a negative manner.  This view towards women can be seen in several of the works of Hawthorne's - among them "Rappaccini's Daughter," "The Prophetic Pictures," and  "Lady Eleanor's Mantle."  While this view of women is not always at the forefront of the piece, it is certainly worth exploring how they are treated by the men in each.

 In "The Birthmark," Aylmer sets about the task of ridding his wife of the one imperfection she has.  By attempting to perfect her, the readers get the idea that somehow Georgiana is not adequate and this inadequacy lies in her appearance.  The message to the readers seems to be that women need to be perfect on the outside as well as on the inside, which Aylmer claims is flawless.  Aylmer decides he is going to "fix" Georgiana.  Feminists look at this as a male control issue.   There are several mentions of Georgiana as being "otherwise so perfect," in both appearance and soul - save for this birthmark.  This idea of having to have the most beautiful wife is very degrading view of women.  It plants the idea in our minds that men are superior to women, and that men are the ones who can "fix" females in the attempt to bring them up to the level of me...


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...hadow of death falling over the female characters in each of these stories.  This would fit into what Fetterly describes as "the great American dream of eliminating women."  It seems that the role of the men in these pieces were chiefly to try and control their wives/love interests/daughters in the attempt to get an upper hand in the battle of the sexes.  There are not any productive male-female relationships seen here, and feminists would conclude that this stems from the need to dominate women, probably because men are afraid of the power of women.  We can't know what's going on in the minds of these men, but it certainly is interesting to look at the relationships they have with the main female characters.

Works Cited:

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. " Rappaccini's Daughter." Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tales. Ed. James McIntosh. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1987.

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