The Birthmark Essay, Research Paper
The Birthmark is a story filled with allegory, foreshadowing, and moral lessons. Hawthorne uses these tools not only to prepare the reader for what is to come in the story but to warn the reader of the consequences that follow reckless and selfish behavior. Hawthorne uses his characters as instruments to fulfill his motives. Hawthorne s characters can also be paralleled to people living in modern times. The quest to obtain perfection is littered throughout modern culture. Many women and men spend a tremendous amount of time and money attempting to achieve an ultimate perfection, when in reality perfection is a quality humans may spend an eternity trying to achieve. Although The Birthmark was written over 100 years ago, its message still applies to human beings today because it captures what seems to be an innate human quality: the relentless pursuit of perfection.
Hawthorne opens his story introducing the scientist, Aylmer. He describes Aylmer as a man devoted to science. Despite his love affair with science, Aylmer convinces a beautiful woman, Georgiana, to marry him. Once they had been married for a short time, Aylmer notices and is deeply disturbed by a birthmark on Georgiana s face. The birthmark, a crimson stain upon the snowiest shape bore not a little similarity to the human hand, though of the smallest pigmy size… (p278), becomes an obsession for Aylmer; as each day passes it disgust him more and more. When Aylmer first introduces the topic of the wretched birthmark , Georgiana asks Aylmer, then why did you take me from my mother s side? (p279). Georgiana likes her earthly imperfection. Her previous lovers adored her
mark and many a desperate swain would have risked life for the privilege of pressing his lips to the mysterious hand… (p280). Despite the admiration people have for her birthmark, Aylmer s outright rejection of Georgiana and her birthmark soon make Georgiana believe that she is not good enough so long as she has a flaw. According to James Quinn and Ross Baldessarini While Aylmer s struggle is virtually universal, his fixation on Georgiana s blemish approaches a symptom that is considered characteristic of obsessive-compulsive neurosis in modern day psychopathological terms. The function of such neurotic symptoms in the psychic economy is to inhibit intolerable anxiety by focusing on an isolated and somewhat concrete representation so as to avoid a larger emotional conflict. Aylmer is cruel towards Georgiana; he strips her of the confidence she once had and helps her replace it with believing that her birthmark is as Aylmer claims it to be, a flaw on an otherwise perfect being.
Hawthorne includes a third character in The Birthmark, Aminidab, with his vast strength, his shaggy hair, his smoky aspect, and the indescribable earthliness that incrusted him… (p281) seems to represent the unrefined man, while Aylmer represents man as a thinker. The Sharp contrast between slender, well-groomed Aylmer and shaggy Aminidab may lead readers to assume that Aylmer is the better of the two based on merely appearances. However, this notion is challenged when Aminidab states that if she were my wife, I d never part with that birthmark (p283). Aminidab pushes the reader to see the difference between a man who is content with nature and Aylmer a man who is essentially trying to play God.
From the beginning of the story, the readers are given hints some subtle and others not so subtle of Georgiana s impending dome. The hand is often times referred to as human hand to remind the reader that it is a sign of mortality. Aylmer refers to the hand as being
the visible mark of earthly imperfection. Though these reference, the little crimson hand is directly connected to nature, if not life. Aylmer also has a dream, which is one of the strongest uses of foreshadowing in the Birthmark. Aylmer dreams that he is cutting the mark off Georgiana and the deeper he cuts the deeper the little hand goes into her body. The hand goes down to her heart and Aylmer feels that he must remove the hand at all costs, even if it means taking Georgiana s life. Once Georgiana agrees to the removal of her mark, the readers are presented with further clues as to how Aylmer s obsession will end. Aylmer takes Georgiana to a decorated room where she will be subject to his experiments. Here Georgina comes across his experiment record book and discovers that his successful attempts are dwarfed by his failures. Things change for her from this point on, she is no longer as confident in her husband. While she waited for Aylmer, she began to experience strange feelings throughout her body and she specifically comments on a sensation she feels in her birthmark, It was a sensation in the fatal birthmark, not painful, but which induced a restlessness throughout her system (p287). Aylmer then tells her that the mark is deep, know, then, that this Crimson Hand, superficial as it seems, has clutched its grasp, into your being, with a strength of which I had no previous conception. I have already administered agents powerful enough to do aught, except o change your physical system (p287). Aylmer s real life experience seems to match that of his dream and this is reality in order to provide another strong instance of foreshadowing. Aylmer s statement also reveals that cause for her discomfort; the little crimson hand is giving her a warning to stop trying to remove it.
Georgiana and Aylmer do not stop and the story reveals itself. Georgiana dies, the fatal Hand had grappled with the mystery of life, and was the bond by which as angelic spirit
kept itself in unison with a mortal frame (p288). Georgiana is perfect in both a mental and psychical sense except for the crimson birthmark. She obeys her husband, does whatever she can to make him happy, And with her whole spirit, she prayed, that, for a single moment, she might satisfy his highest and deepest conception. Longer than one moment, she well knew it could be (288). Ironically, the mark that flawed her perfect frame was her life force.
Everything on this planet has a flaw to it and that is what makes it a part of this world. Hawthorne says it best when he said, The world fatal hand grappled with mystery of life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in union with it s mortal self. A flaw is what separates man from the celestial universe. Aylmer fail tremendously and destroys the woman he loved, and that is exactly what we are doing to ourselves today. We are trying so hard to become perfect when nature never intended us to be perfect.
Perfect can definitely be thought as an opinionated adjective.
1.) Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Birthmark. The Compact Bedford Introduction To Literature: Bedford/ St. Martin s Boston – New York
2.) Quinn, James and Baldessarini, Ross A Psychological Readings of The Birthmark (b.1937)