In four of Hawthorne's stories there is a struggle for power and control as a vehicle to obtain perfection or beauty. In "The Artist of the Beautiful", "Rappaccini's Daughter", "The Birthmark" and "The Prophetic Pictures" the characters are controlled by their desire for perfection in their creations, but they do not achieve their goals without sacrifice.
In "The Artist of the Beautiful" Owen is spends years perfecting his creation. His quest for "the Beautiful" controls him. His sensitivity to delicate perfection affects him even physically as he is made ill by the large mechanical steam engine. "Being once carried to see a steam-engine...he turned pale and grew sick, as if something monstrous and unnatural had been presented to him". He is as delicate as the butterfly he creates. "For Heaven's sake...as you would not drive me mad, do not touch it! The slightest pressure of your finger would ruin me forever". In his obsessive pursuit of perfection he cuts himself off from the human experience. He builds what he believes he was "created for" without a thought to what he is sacrificing to achieve his goal. The butterfly is mysterious and beautiful, but for all of his effort it is destroyed. Years are sacrificed in the quest for perfection. To Owen the sacrifice may have been well worth it, but considering Hawthorne's warnings about the folly of separating oneself from humanity in other stories, he may again be saying that Owen's quest for mechanical perfection is an empty victory in light of the life and joy he could have had with Annie.
In "Rappaccini's Daughter" the scientist sacrifices his own daughter to bot...
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...retched lady!...did I not warn you?", "You did...but- I love him!" Apparently, the artist painted the truth and the fate of Elinor's relationship with Walter, but persuaded by love, she chose to ignore his warnings. The power of the artist is clear. He tried to make Elinor see her future with Walter clearly. But it was the power of denial (and the power of love?) that Elinor chose to follow.
I think Hawthorne may be implying in these stories that perfection is unattainable and the quest for it may be unrewarding, even fatal. In these and some of Hawthorne's other stories, I believe he is reminding people of the delicate blessings of life. Our pursuit of happiness outside of a connection with other people and our reckless endeavor to supersede the power of the supernatural may result in temporary satisfaction, but is ultimately unfulfilling and even dangerous.
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