The Birthmark Essay, Research Paper
Death of the Birthmark
In Nathaniel Hawthorne s, The Birthmark, Aylmer, a man devoted entirely to his science, marries Georgiana, a beautiful young woman with a single earthly imperfection. This imperfection bears the resemblance of a tiny crimson hand and is clearly visible on the left cheek of Georgiana. The birthmark itself is both a symbol for the downfall of society through science and technology and the impending death that is to come for Georgiana. The birthmark becomes the object of Aylmer s obsession and he resolves to use all his scientific knowledge to correct what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work. Through The Birthmark, Hawthorne suggests that this quest for perfection is a scientific trait, and the death of Georgiana and her birthmark warns of the consequences when science claims too much power; the power to control and alter nature.
Relying solely upon science and logic, Aylmer lacks rationale or morality. Being a man of science, Aylmer renders Georgiana’s birthmark “as a symbol of his wife’s liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death.” As a result, he views his wife as imperfect and becomes obsessed with this superficial imperfection. Aylmer’s obsession becomes self-created, and in turn becomes emotionally and physically damaging for Georgiana s well being. In the early years of her marriage, Georgiana had been content with her physical appearance and actually took delight in her unique birthmark. However, as soon as Aylmer makes his displeasure with her imperfection evident, he persuades Georgiana to believe that her birthmark must be removed for the sanity of them both. He has no idea how Georgiana is feeling in this situation and due to his continued obsession, he becomes physically violent with her by grabbing her arm and leaving an imprint. He uses his wife as his scientific experiment, and is willing to sacrifice Georgiana for perfection and the triumph of science.
Aylmer tries at first to cure his wife with a vessel containing a quantity of earth which magically gives bloom to a perfect and lovely flower. At the scientist s request, Georgiana reaches out to pluck a petal from the plant to inhale its perfume but at her touch, the flower withers and dies. After the abortive experiment, Aylmer attempts to rid the birthmark with rays of light but fails once again. Finally, the scientist creates an elixir, that when poured on the roots of an aging plant, cures it of its disease and blotches. This is proof enough to convince Georgiana to swallow the draught. As she sleeps and allows the potion to take effect, Aylmer watches with the philosophic investigation characteristic of the man of science. He is pleased to see that the birthmark is fading but is unaware until it is too late that his wife is dying. At last, Aylmer is successful in removing the fatal mark and scoring a victory for science but at the expense of Georgiana s death.
Although Aylmer can be seen as a symbol of intellect and the mind, he uses it in a way that goes against God and all the natural world. He places a higher priority on the success of his experiments rather then the importance and health of human life. His wife, a woman with heart and emotion, cannot survive when her birthmark is removed because its tiny grasp appeared to have caught hold of (her) heart; whence, however, her husband was inexorably resolved to cut or wrench it away. Aylmer’s quest for perfection becomes deadly when he kills his wife by his own hand.
Hawthorne reveals through the unfortunate outcome of Aylmer s experiment that science cannot and should not interfere with what God naturally bestows upon humankind. If Aylmer had been able to weigh knowledge and morality, Georgiana s life would not have come to such an abrupt end. Hence, the death of Georgiana serves as a warning to those who seek perfection and are greedy for power. One must understand that there are boundaries and moral responsibilities when dealing with nature and humankind and if those boundaries are broken, one should be willing to accept the consequences.