The Birthmark

1 January 2017

A birthmark is a blemish or new growth on the skin formed before birth and is usually brown or dark red in color. There is no need to say that it is not a normal part of one’s body, a birthmark is just a part of being a human.

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famously known short story, “‘The Birthmark’, tells of a scientist’s passion to overcome what he deems to be the imperfection of nature” (Cassill) and uses the birthmark its self, Aylmer’s dream, the laboratory and boudoir as symbols of the different ideas of how one gets their selves away from humanity and into a different, more perfect life. Aylmer’s wife is a beautiful woman with pale white skin. Georgiana’s nearly perfect beauty is flawed with the hand on her cheek.

It is a birthmark deeply interwoven within her face. It is in the shape of a tiny hand, such as one of a fairy. The mark on her face was of the color crimson red. Her birthmark also demonstrates the power of nature because it captivates and intoxicates almost everyone who sees it. The birthmark had not previously bothered her or her prior lovers but to “Aylmer, however, it is a symbol of imperfection” (May). Hawthorne even tells the reader, that her birthmark was a symbol in the story.

In paragraph 8, he [Hawthorne] stated: “The crimson hand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visible frames return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as the symbol of his wife’s liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death. ” In the paragraph above, Hawthorne is telling the reader right away that the birthmark represents Georgiana’s humanity. Hawthorne also indicates that it is equivalent to representing her flaws.

It is man’s nature to be mortal and imperfect, which is just what it means to be a human. Aylmer “simply fails to see the object of his affection as an ordinary human being” (Bloom). Aylmer’s desire to make his wife perfect is doomed to failure because perfection is the exclusive province of heaven and can not be found on earth. In fact, the very success of Aylmer’s perfection-inducing potion may doom Georgiana to death. Because she becomes an ideal being, completely perfect and unflawed, she is no longer able to exist in this world.

Barbara Eckstein states that “it is clear that Aylmer’s obsession with his science makes him unfit for human companionship, but what so motivates him to ‘correct… Nature’? ” The desire for perfection not only kills Georgiana, it also ruins her husband because his desire to create the ideal woman becomes a fixation that prevents him from seeing the good in his wife. Secondly, Aylmer’s dream was a classic case of literary foreshadowing. In his dream, Aylmer tries to cut away his wife’s birthmark but the deeper he cut, the deeper the crimson had went into Georgiana, until he reached the end and saw that it had a grip of her heart.

The only solution he had was to cut her heart out along with the birthmark, ending her life. Lewis Horne suggests that: the distance Aylmer’s obsession will drive him is indicated earlier in reflection after his dream: “Until now he had not been aware of the tyrannizing influences acquired by one idea over his mind, and of the lengths which he might find his heart to go for the sake of giving himself peace” (paragraph 16 ). “A man obsessed, he has united his love of science with his love of woman and done it unevenly. ” Once Aylmer told his wife about his dream she feels so unwanted by her husband she can feel his repulsion towards her.

Georgiana begins to wish for Aylmer to get rid of her birthmark al not just to make her husband happy but herself as well. She would then know her husband was a happy to be with her as she was with him. Furthermore, the laboratory and boudoir were places for Aylmer and Georgiana to escape to. The two rooms were very different in looks and smells. The laboratory is more for Aylmer. Science is the first affection of his life, it is “the passion that virtually fills his heart” (Horne). As Georgiana walks into her husband’s lab, the first thing she sees is a furnace.

Around the room there were tubes, cylinders, crucibles, and other machinery of chemical research. An electrical machine stood ready for immediate use. The atmosphere felt oppressively close and was tainted with gaseous odors, which had been tormented forth by the processes of science. The lab is also described to the reader as a cold, dark, and creepy place. This is emphasizing to the reader the symbolism of the power he feels science gives to him. Ironically, Aylmer has experienced little success in his laboratory. This is the reason why Hawthorne portrays the lab as being ark because it represents the failures he has experienced in his scientific career.

Aylmer himself was not necessarily a failure because of a scientific competence, but rather he has never reached the high marks he sets for himself as expressed with the passage, “Much as he had accomplished, she could not but observe…the inestimable gems which lay hidden beyond his reach” (paragraph 52). In the other hand, the boudoir was for Georgiana. In the text, she found herself breathing an atmosphere of penetrating fragrance; the scene around her looked like enchantment. It was a clean and beautiful place for Georgiana to rest and clear her mind.

It is like the spiritual realm, freed from the earth and from all humanly imperfections. This room was full of Aylmer’s spiritual aspirations, full of what he wanted to accomplish as a scientist. It is significant that Aylmer puts his wife in the boudoir and does not want her to leave, imagining that he can “draw a magic circle round her which no evil might intrude” (paragraph 29). This attempt to shelter Georgiana is impossible, just as his attempt to remove her birthmark is really an attempt to remove her humanity. So, Aylmer’s desire to shelter her from evil is a desire to shelter her from being any more human than she already is.

All he wants is to get rid of her one flaw and she will be the woman and wife he has always wanted her to be. Nathaniel Hawthorne brilliantly brings the elements of fiction to life in the story “The Birthmark. ” He successfully brings the symbolism of humanity and the life lesson that we all have our flaws, in the images of the birthmark its self, Aylmer’s dream, the laboratory and boudoir. He also has challenged the reader to question the reasons and distance a person is willingly to go to in the quest for obtaining perfection. In the end, science cannot compete with nature.

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