A Story of Love and Science
Nathaniel Hawthorne is a nineteenth century American
Novelist whose works are deeply concerned with the ethical
problems of sin, punishment, and atonement (Adams 168). The New
England writer also handles the romantic theme very well and is a
master of historical fiction. Hawthorne was a descendant of one
of the judges at the Salem witch trials, and he set many of his
works in Puritan New England and during early crises in American
“The Birthmark,” like many of Hawthorne’s stories deals with
the relationship between men and women. It is a love story where
the quest for perfection leads to a tragic end. The protagonist,
a scientist named Aylmer, attempts to attain perfection for his
new wife Georgiana, by removing a birthmark resembling a small
hand from her left cheek. Written in 1843, it was Hawthorne’s
first work of fiction right after he married his wife, Sophia
(Encarta). This adds depth to the story in a way that Hawthorne
can relate to it in a more direct manner. It was written during
the Old Manse period in Hawthorne’s life (July 1842 to October
1845) when he was becoming interested in the place in society of
the artist. In “The Birthmark” Hawthorne finishes by giving
credit to the flaws and imperfections of human nature.
The story shows Hawthorne’s opinion that some things that
were created by God cannot be changed. This can be seen from an
article in the American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining
Knowledge in 1836 where he stated “the Creator has absolutely
debarred mankind from all inventions and discoveries, the results
of which would counter act the general laws, that He has
established over human affairs,” (Adams 169).
In “The Birthmark,” Hawthorne uses the obsession of the
scientist Aylmer who wishes to combine the love he has for
science with the love for his wife. Aylmer sees the birthmark on
his wife’s cheek of an imperfection and a symbol of man’s
mortality. Aylmer is described in terms of high praise, praise
for his aspiration toward the infinite, for his pure and
honorable love that will accept nothing less than perfection
(Jones 193). Aylmer’s effort in removi...
... middle of paper ...
...st die, as Georgiana does.
In “The Birthmark” Hawthorne presents a love story that
brings forth the larger idea of man’s quest for perfection. He
concludes that the perfect love and the perfect wife cannot be
attained through man’s own actions. Hawthorne used his knowledge
of Transcendentalism to put forth the idea that man could use his
knowledge and abilities to overcome nature. The story’s tragic
ending shows that science cannot change man’s basic nature and
that some things should not be messed with. Love and science
sometimes do not mix. Works Cited
Adams, Richard. N.p.: n.p., 1958. Rpt. in Short Story
Criticism. Ed. Sheila Fitzgerald. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale,
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Celestrial Railroad and Other Stories.
New York: Signet, 1963.
Jones, Madison. “Variations on a Hawthorne Theme.” Studies in
Short Fiction. 15.3 (1978): 227-83
“Nathaniel Hawthorne.” Microsoft Encarta Encylopedia 99. CD-
ROM. N.p.: n.p, 1999.
Wohlpart, James. “Allegories of Art, Allegories of Heart:
Hawthorne’s ‘Egotism’ and ‘The Christmas Banquet’.” Studies
in Short Fiction. 31.3 (1994): 449-95.
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