Hawthorne Comparison Essay, Research Paper
Nathaniel Hawthorne has written many short stories that have common themes. One of these common themes is science versus nature and God. Hawthorne was writing during a time when many people were trying to use science to explain phenomenon that had always been attributed to a divine power. In Hawthorne s Rappaccini s Daughter , The Birthmark and Dr. Heidegger s Experiment science has a negative effect on those who meddle with it, and sometimes innocents suffer too. Hawthorne uses these works to denounce science as a substitute for faith and love.
In The Birthmark Aylmer becomes so obsessed with making Georgina perfect that it causes both their downfalls. He becomes so confident is his ability to mold and change nature that he acquires a God complex. Although the idea of religion is not a main idea in the plot, Hawthorne brilliantly uses language to convey his point:
language which may be either literal or figurative but in either case has influential overtones. What we find recurrently in The Birthmark, and therefore insistently asking to be taken into account, is the terminology and imagery of religion. Specifically religious problems are not overtly introduced into the story, but the language of religion is there for so unfailingly that, like iterative imagery in drama and poetry, it must be closely inspected if a final reading of the story is to be complete. (Heilman, p. 189)
As the story continues, we see that Georgina also considers Aylmer to be God-like in his science. Science has been substituted as religion in this relationship;
Georgina thinks of Aylmer s devotion to her-to the perfect her- as holy love. What is made clear by such terms, which function precisely like poetic images, is that science itself has become religion, able to provide an ultimate account of reality and therefore to exact complete human dedication. (Heilman, p. 189)
Instead of believing in God and the natural beauty she was blessed with, she focuses her faith on her husband and his plight to remove her birthmark. He has now become her God, controller of nature. Further evidence of Georgina s faith in Aylmer as God, comes when she is talking about Aylmer s sorcerer s book:
(Aylmer s) sorcerer s book, Georgina insists to him, has made me worship you more than ever. Aylmer s own confusion is shown further in his paradoxical inclination to adore as well as create: the spectral hand wrote mortality where we would fain have worshipped. (Heilman, p. 191)
Aylmer and Georgina have shifted the focus from God and religion to science, including all aspects of what religion used to encompass. To stress the theme, Hawthorne even uses the same words we associate with religion to show how confused the characters are and how misplaced their faith is.
Aylmer confuses science and religion again when he attempts to improve inner beauty with outer beauty:
Hawthorne brilliantly summarizes the metaphysics of the scientific religion in Aylmer s explication of the series of steps in his rehabilitation of Georgina. He tells her, I have already administered agents powerful enough to change your entire physical system is, in this cosmology, the equivalent of regeneration or conversion. Aylmer s faith becomes, in effect: improve the body, and you save the soul. (Heilman, p.191)
The idea of improving inner beauty with outer beauty is also a prevalent theme in Dr. Heidegger s Experiment . As Dr. Heidegger describes his guests, none of them strike the reader as particularly nice people. They are all decrepit, miserable and old. Dr. Heidegger is also elderly, but he does not share the negativity and cynicism of his peers. Compared to the scientists from The Birthmark and Rappaccini s Daughter , Dr. Heidegger is much smarter and less fanatical. He offers his friends the water from the fountain of youth and they greedily lunge for it. Dr. Heidegger even warns them to consider the consequences, but they drink the water as fast as they can consume it. As their bodies become more beautiful, the subjects of the experiment start acting younger. They get up and dance and rejoice in their new found youthfulness. They seem to have forgotten about the disparity of old age in a matter of seconds. Even though the guests are more beautiful on the outside, their inner beauty seems to be unaffected. In the most disgusting and disgraceful moment of the story, the new young people mock Dr. Heidegger s old age and feebleness even though they were of similar condition only moments ago. He is responsible for their happiness, and they laugh in his face in return. This display proves what Aylmer discovered in The Birthmark ; outer beauty cannot beautify your soul.
In Rappaccini s Daughter the allusions to religion are much more obvious than either of the previous two stories. The setting is a beautiful garden that matches the likes of the garden of Eden. This garden, however, is filled with poisonous plants that will kill you if you come into contact with them. This creates a very strong Heaven /Hell contrast. As Giovanni becomes infatuated with Beatrice, it is again, his lack of faith in religion that causes both of them emotional pain and death:
Giovanni, in short, lacks the depth of heart necessary to tender to Beatrice the love to which her spirit could respond. He vacillates between faith and doubt, between the promptings of the heart and those of the fancy, which blurs any profounder vision and makes it impossible for him to believe in Beatrice s spiritual beauty even though he has perceived its manifestation. Had he trusted in the heart rather than in the fancy he would have been reassured that all this ugly mystery was but an earthly illusion, that despite the mist of evil surrounding her, the real Beatrice was a heavenly angel. But Giovanni is incapable of such high faith. When Beatrice says she had been lonely until heaven sent him, he turns angrily upon her, burying her with invective, calling her a world s wonder of hideous monstrosity. And when she sadly explains the truth of her situation, a contrite Giovanni betrays the poverty of his heart one final time. Perhaps, he thinks, he can yet lead the redeemed Beatrice from the garden; putting his faith not in the heart but in a scientific antidote, he ministers the potion given him by Baglioni, and-compounding his emotional blindness-promises that it is almost divine in its efficacy. (Martin, p. 89-90)
If Giovanni had chosen to trust in God instead of science, Beatrice would not have died.
Beatrice is the most victimized of all the characters in these three short stories. Her father, Rappaccini had created a garden so unnatural and his daughter was born that way too. Although he never seemed bothered in the beginning of the story, he clearly sees what terrible consequences his actions have caused when his daughter dies. Rappaccini is perhaps the most evil of the three scientists. He makes natural beautiful things evil and ugly, and when it backfires and affects his daughter, it doesn t bring about an epiphany:
Rappaccini, a grotesque figure of the mad scientist as overly protective father, has thus rendered his daughter poisonous to defend her against the evils of the world. He had poisoned Giovanni to give her a companion in this inverted paradise, this Eden of the present world. And just as Baglioni has precipitated Beatrice s death by his concern to outmaneuver Rappaccini, just as Giovanni has failed to evince the potent magic of love that could have been the true antidote to Rappaccini s scientific skill, so Rappaccini, warped apostle of the head that he is has never seen that Beatrice would fain have been loved, not feared. She is, we recall from his boast, the daughter of his pride and triumph, not the daughter of his heart. (Martin, p. 92)
Only in death when it is too late does Rappaccini learn the consequences of his actions. Unfortunately, it is Beatrice who pays the price.
In these three short stories, it is clear that science is the cause for the death and destruction of the characters. This is Hawthorne s way of warning against the acceptance of science as religion and the rejection of faith in God. These characters put their faith in the twisted religion of science and they paid the price for it. All of the irreparable damage could have been avoided had the characters maintained their faith in God and not looked elsewhere for a substitute for happiness.
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