“Everything he has to say is related, finally, to ‘that inward sphere.’ For the heart is the meeting-place of all the forces – spiritual and physical, light and dark, that compete for dominance in man’s nature. . . .” (McPherson 68-69). McPherson’s “heart” is the key to understanding the role of women in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale, “The Birthmark.”
Only imperfection is what nearsighted Aylmer sees in the birthmark on Georgiana’s cheek. But he is unfortunately oblivious to the virtue in her soul, the deep beauty contained in the depth of her love for him. The wife’s virtue leads her onward and upward; the husband’s lack thereof and inability to appreciate virtue in his Georgiana leads him downward and downward.
The concept of women is established in the very opening paragraph of “The Birthmark.” The narrator introduces Aylmer as a scientist who found “a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one,” referring to his love for Georgiana. She is portrayed as having meaning in Aylmer’s life – not in first place, but in second place to his scientific interests.
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 initial...
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...el . 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.
Stewart, Randall. “Hawthorne’s Female Characters.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Swisher, Clarice. “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
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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