Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “The Birthmark,” contains a wonderful example of the perfect wife. This essay will develop that theme.
In the opening paragraph of “The Birthmark” the narrator introduces Aylmer as a scientist who “had made experience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one.” Hawthorne’s description of the scientist’s love for Georgiana is apt, for love is just that – spiritual. And the theme of this tale is a spiritual one. Through the course of the story Aylmer declines spiritually, while Georgiana advances spiritually.
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; unfortunately he discounts her inner, spiritual value so clearly manifested in her comment: ``To tell you the truth it has been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so.'' In using the word “simple” she is being honest and not sarcastic; she is being humble and respectful of others’ (parents?) evaluation of herself. T...
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...dab: “Laugh, thing of the senses! You have earned the right to laugh.'' But there is no success, for with great tenderness and concern for her husband’s happiness, Georgiana softly says, “I am dying!” The narrator’s beautifully poetic way of expressing the demise of the wife is 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.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel . The Birthmark Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library
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