Birthmark Essay, Research Paper
nat-u-ral : 1) based on an inherent sense of right and wrong; 2a) being in accordance with or determined by nature.
In “The Birthmark”, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes the story of a scientist who marries a beautiful young woman with only one imperfection; a crimson birthmark on her left cheek. Aylmer later becomes obsessed with this flaw and thinks nothing but of the removal of the birthmark, which would then render his bride “perfect”. Even though Georgiana has never disliked her birthmark, she resolves that the only way for her marriage to continue is for Aylmer to eradicate her of this “curse” at all costs. Upon the “successful” removal Georgiana dies, a victim of her husband’s greed for beauty. Through the use of various literary devices Hawthorne conveys a serious warning, encouraging the reader to recognize the moral implications involved with man’s aspirations of challenging the natural order through scientific achievement.
From the very beginning, Hawthorne utilizes an omniscient narrator to create a type of separation between his readers and characters in the story. This separation enables the moral lesson to develop unhindered by any potential character association common in first person point of view literature. Emotionally unattached, the reader can thus observe the author’s more subtle plot lines and gain a better appreciation of what motives the characters personify. Only then can one begin to understand the allegorical representations throughout that imply a more significant moral than the literal representation of the characters.
The description of Aylmer is significant in that much is detailed about his passion and devotion for science, but little to nothing mentioned about any other aspect about what makes him unique. This generalization alludes to the idea that Aylmer is a representation of the scientific movement or more specifically man’s obsession with science. Taking this further, Hawthorne uses Aylmer to make a statement on the current scientific movement in society, “He had devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies ever to be weaned from them by any second passion.” This characterization of Aylmer at the very beginning of the story lays the foundation by establishing the parallel between him and a number of possible ideas, i.e. science, intellect, and ambition.
In the same manner that Aylmer represents the pursuit of knowledge through science, Georgiana’s characterization alludes to the natural order of life, and the spirituality of nature. It should be though of as no small coincidence that nature is often considered feminine, such as “Mother Nature”, so this reinforces the parallel between her description and its similarity to the general qualities of natural beauty and spirituality. Her innocence and beauty are symbolic of nature, even to the extent that her feature understood the least can despised the most by people who are not ready to observe natural beauty. Whereas Georgiana’s lovers admired the mark, imagining it as a blessing from a fairy at birth, the women thought of it negatively in a fog of jealousy. “[women] affirmed that the bloody hand, as they chose to call it, quite destroyed the effect of Georgiana’s beauty, and rendered her countenance even hideous.” It is interesting to examine how the influence of Aylmer hastens
The third and most intriguing characterization is that of Aminadab, the brute lab assistant of Aylmer. “the indescribable earthiness that incrusted him, he seemed to represent man’s physical nature;” This is the most descriptive account of a character’s symbolism, and except for the fact that he doesn’t speak much, is the most basic element of the theme. The relationship between Aylmer and Aminadab could be taken to represent the constant devotion of man’s physical nature to his intellectual ambition. Only through these focused characterizations can the imagery become significant, because the consequential actions would be meaningless without the human elements to complete the school of thought from which the moral lesson is derived.
Imagery abounds throughout the story, and each association is representative of a connection in a larger sense. First, the actual birthmark on Georgiana’s face is described to be in the shape of a hand. This is symbolic of God’s seal of approval on nature, and also represents the human element of the natural order, with which nature exists as beauty and man is the birthmark upon nature’s cheek. In keeping with the divinity symbolism, a strong parallel exists between Georgiana’s sentiments towards Aylmer and the feelings of Jesus Christ towards his betrayers when he said “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” When on the verge of death, Georgiana’s words are very indicative of her representation of spirituality – “she repeated, with a more than human tenderness.” In the phrase “more than human tenderness”, it is evident that Hawthorne is paralleling Georgiana to an angel or some similar celestial being. This idea would lead to the hand may have represented some type of human element in an otherwise spiritual body, and when the human element is removed, the spirit no longer remains on Earth. There many examples of imagery, but this is the most reoccurring because it is also the closest to the theme. Aylmer or scientific theory is put to the test against the natural order of spirituality. So many situations occur both in Hawthorn’s day and in the present where not every question has an answer and so when something dealing with religion or spirituality comes into question, science steps in to be the preferred method of rationalizing as opposed to blind faith in the creator. This is at the very heart of the moral in that the constant replacement of faith with a need to rationalize all areas of uncertainty through science will erode the very foundations of which religious beliefs are based, which is faith.