Symbolism In The Birthmark Essay, Research Paper
Hawthorne?s Contemporary Mind
There have been many writers who have astonished the literary world with their configuration of short stories, but none of them have perfected the art as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne wrote in a time period when Fredrick Douglas was paving the road to racial freedom, Ralph Waldo Emerson wanted to world to be seen through the transparent eyeball, and Henry David Thoreau was living the unfettered life. In comparison to the modern writings of his time, Hawthorne?s style was viewed as outdated; nonetheless, Hawthorne addressed modern issues in the symbols and themes of his stories. Through the use of symbols and themes, the short story, ?The Birthmark?, is the best example of Hawthorne representing modern issues. Through his use of symbolism, Hawthorne addresses the issue of the fatal flaw of humanity that nature imposes upon everyone. He addresses the issue of man manipulating nature through the theme of the story. While some might have viewed Hawthorne?s writing style as outdated, he focused on issues that are modern and contemporary to his time.
The modern issue of man?s ability to manipulate nature, and the results of that manipulation, is seen in a scientist?s obsession with perfecting nature. Through husband?s obsession with perfecting his wife, Hawthorne conveys the modern issue of man?s ability to control nature. The central characters in Hawthorne?s story, ?The Birthmark,? are Aylmer and Georgiana. Aylmer and Georgina are in love, yet there is a twist to the love that Aylmer possess for his wife. Georgina is perfect in every way, except for one tiny flaw on her cheek. Nature has imposed upon her a tiny red birthmark, which is the obstacle in the love that Aylmer has for Georgiana. As a scientist, Aylmer is obsessed with the act of manipulating nature, this obsession is blossomed with the imperfection that Georgiana posses.
Seeing her otherwise so perfect, he found this one defect grow more and more intolerable with every moment of their united lives (2226).
Aylmer cannot stand the thought of a creature being virtually perfect that he must find a way to rid Georgiana of her birthmark.
No dearest Georgiana, you came so near perfect form the hands of Nature that this slightest possible defect-which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty-shocks me as being the visible mark of earthy imperfection (2225).
Aylmer?s obsession with Georgiana?s ?earthly imperfection? leads to the eventual downfall of both of them.
Aylmer finds the cure for his wife?s one flaw and administers the potion to her. The administering of this potion provides the power and ability to control and change nature.
The crimson hand, which at first has been strongly visible upon the marble paleness of Georgiana?s cheek, now grew more faintly outlined. She remained not less pale then ever; but the birthmark, with every breath that came and went lost somewhat of its former distinctness (2235).
With the inhaling and exhaling of every breath that Georgiana took, not only did the birthmark fade, but also so did the life within her. Aylmer?s obsession with manipulating nature was the eventual downfall of his true love. Hawthorne shows the reader the modern issue that nature will always win in the end. Man may have the ability to manipulate nature, but man will never come out as the victor.
Hawthorne not only conveys modern issues through the theme of his story, but he also uses symbols to express contemporary issues. The most important symbol in, ?The Birthmark?, that shows modern thought is the birthmark on Georgiana?s cheek. Georgiana exceptional closeness to perfection is undermined by the mark on her cheek. This mark symbolizes the fatal flaw that all of nature?s creatures posses.
It was the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature, in one way or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her production, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain (2226).
Nothing and no one is perfect. Perfection is a dream that Aylmer tries to make reality. The birthmark represents Georgiana?s ability to be mortal and sin. Aylmer ultimately rids Georgiana of the ability to be immortal and therefore she dies. In symbolizing the birthmark as the fatal flaw of humanity, Hawthorne is illustrating the modern issue that not even nature is perfect, and all the creatures from nature cannot be faultless. The birthmark has references to life, death, beauty, and disgust all of which are fatal flaws that nature imposes on her creations.
Another symbol that shows modern issues in Hawthorne?s writing is Georgiana herself. Georgiana?s pure faith symbolizes the modern issue of men controlling women. Aylmer is not only trying to manipulate and dominate nature, but he is trying to control Georgiana.
These questions had such a particular drift that Georgiana began to conjecture that she was already subjected to certain physical influences, either breathed in with the fragrant air or taken with her food (2231).
Without his wife?s knowledge, Aylmer manipulates Georgiana with outside influences, which will eventually free them of the ?crimson hand? that has plagued their lives.
Hawthorne plays with the contemporary issue of man?s need to dominate women. Riding her of the birthmark allows Aylmer to dominate his wife. Hawthorne also uses this theme in the story, ?Rappaccini?s Daughter?. Rappaccini?s father and Aylmer use their women as experiments. The women in their lives are no longer a human being but a specimen to be studied and controlled.
The style of Hawthorne?s writing has been deemed as outdated by some literary critics, but if they would look deeper they would find a mind filled with contemporary thoughts. These thoughts are most significantly conveyed in his short story, ?The Birthmark?. Through the use of symbols, Hawthorne addresses the issues of man?s fatal flaw from the hands nature, while he uses the theme of his story to make aware that nature cannot be manipulated. Unlike Thoreau, Hawthorne wanted people to realize that nature is not perfect and should not be used as a channel for spirituality. What they could agree on that nature should not be manipulated and controlled.