This essay will analyze Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” to determine the external and internal conflicts in the tale.
In the opinion of this reader, the central conflicts in the tale – the relation between the protagonist and antagonist usually (Abrams 225) – are the external one between Aylmer and Georgiana over the birthmark on her cheek, and internal ones within Georgiana between love and self-interest and alienation, and within Aylmer regarding scientific good and evil, success and failure.
Hyatt Waggoner in “Nathaniel Hawthorne” states:
Alienation is perhaps the theme he handles with greatest power. “Insulation,” he sometimes called it – which suggests not only isolation but imperviousness. It is the opposite of that “osmosis of being” that Warren has written of, that ability to respond and relate to others and the world. . . . it puts one outside the ‘magic circle’ or the ‘magnetic chain’ of humanity, where there is neither love nor reality (54).
Waggoner’s theme of alienation does play a part in the tale, but the theme which dominates is that of love conquering self as exemplified in Georgiana’s growing love for Aylmer. Her love transforms her very soul. “Everything he has to say is related, finally, to ‘that inward sphere’” (McPherson 68-69). “When he desired to build the kingdom of God, he looked for the pattern of it, not in history nor in the fortunes of those about him, but in his own heart (Erskine 180).
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...
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Erskine, John. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” In Leading American Novelists. New York: Books For Libraries Press, 1968.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birthmark” Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library
McPherson, Hugo. “Hawthorne’s Use of Mythology.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Waggoner, Hyatt. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” In Six American Novelists of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Richard Foster. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1968.
Williams, Stanley T. “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
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