In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “The Birthmark,” the reader finds an excellent example of a woman who is so superior to her male counterpart that she has to be labeled the protagonist of the tale. This essay will demonstrate why this designation is deserved by the female character, Georgiana.
In the opening paragraph of “The Birthmark” the narrator introduces Aylmer as a scientist whose love for Georgiana is “more attractive than any chemical one.” And indeed, he is such a passionate scientist that everything meaningful in his life has to be related to science. He is incapable of developing beyond this stage of personal growth. Georgiana, on the other hand, enters the tale as a rather “simple” young lady, but soon grows and grows and grows –n that most important spiritual virtue of love. As the woman-protagonist advances in her spirituality, her unfortunate husband, Aylmer, declines in virtue.
Even after Aylmer has “persuaded a beautiful woman to become his wife,” he is not capable of loving her properly, unselfishly, because he “had devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies ever to be weaned from them by any second passion.” The narrator seeks to justify this error or lack in Aylmer by explaining that “it was not unusual for the love of science to rival the love of woman in its depth and absorbing energy.” Already at the outset of the tale, the reader perceives that Georgiana is going to be shortchanged in this marriage. She is exposed to the problem initially when her husband asks whether “it never occurred to you that the mark upon your cheek might be removed?'' Aylmer is in quest of physical perfection in his wife; unfortun...
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...memorable: “The fatal hand had grappled with the mystery of life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in union with a mortal frame.” The soul of this angelic, loving woman, “lingering a moment near her husband, took its heavenward flight.” A true angel of womankind is ascending to heaven.
The distinct and obvious spiritual superiority of Georgiana, as compared to the retarded, backward, stunted, minimal growth thereof in Aylmer, is adequate cause for designating the lovely woman of the tale the protagonist. She possesses qualities of heroic dimension; he does not.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel . The Birthmark Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library
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