The ‘Birth-mark’ is a story that examines the obsession that people have with body perfection. An otherwise very beautiful woman called Georgina has a birthmark on her face, which make her pretty and outstanding to many. Surprisingly, even in her own eyes it is beautiful until the husband Aylmer starts complaining that it is ugly and makes her look less attractive. Since that time, she becomes depressed every time he mentions it or sulks at seeing it and consequently ends up hating it even more than he does. As a result, she agrees to his insistent request to remove it using his scientific knowhow, which he actively practiced, in his laboratory. On the set date, the operation was planned with the help of his lab assistant who despite having no scientific knowledge followed all his instructions to the letter. Sadly though, albeit the innovative substance developed to remove the birthmark worked, it also led to Georgina’s sad demise leaving the Aylmer at a loss. This paper examines the themes in the story while offering proper details and quotations about them. The themes discussed include scientific knowledge and development, marriage, love and trust, nature, folly and ignorance.
Scientific Knowledge and Development
The most outstanding theme is scientific development growth and innovation. Gale posits that the story was written in the latter part of the 18th century and the author states that in those days the close discovery of electricity and other similar innovations seemed to open the paths into the region of miracle (90). Consequently, Aylmer devoted himself to his research and developments in the laboratory,
‘In those days when the comparatively recent discovery of electricity and other kindred mysteries of Nature seemed to open paths into the region of miracle, it was not unusual for the love of science to rival the love of woman in its depth and absorbing energy. The higher intellect, the imagination, the spirit, and even the heart might all find their congenial aliment in pursuits which, as some of their ardent votaries believed, would ascend from one step of powerful intelligence to another, until the philosopher should lay his hand on the secret of creative force and perhaps make new worlds for himself. (Hawthorne 5).
As explained, the book was written during the period when people highly glorified scientific methods. Moreover, there was also the notion in people’s mind that science could take people anywhere and sort all their problems. However, it is also clear that the author somehow criticizes the theme by showing that albeit science is highly useful, it also has flaws and could fail. Hawthorne shows that science has its limitations despite the optimism, which existed in the period. This is exhibited clearly by its failures and flaws such as the inability to solve the problems, which people need, solved. Such is an example is shown below where Aylmer needed to show the wife his expertise when it came to chemical engineering. However, the experiment was abortive; a factor that made him embarrassed.
‘Nay, pluck it”, answered Aylmer,—”pluck it, and inhale its brief perfume while you may. The flower will wither in a few moments and leave nothing save its brown seed vessels; but thence may be perpetuated a race as ephemeral as itself.”
However, Georgiana had no sooner touched the flower than the whole plant suffered a blight, its leaves turning coal-black as if by the agency of fire.
“There was town powerful a stimulus,” said Aylmer, thoughtfully.
To make up for this abortive experiment. He proposed to take her portrait by a scientific process of his own invention. It was to be effected by rays of light striking upon a polished plate of metal. Georgiana assented; but, on looking at the result, was affrighted to find the features of the portrait blurred and indefinable; while the minute figure of a hand appeared where the cheek should have been. Aylmer snatched the metallic plate and threw it into a jar of corrosive acid.
Soon, however, he forgot these mortifying failures. In the intervals (Hawthorne 8)
The same is demonstrated in other instances case in point in the point where albeit Aylmer’s cure for the birthmark, the procedure fails and instead kills the patient. The instant shows that even though the cure worked and he rejoiced in the work, it still never had the ability to keep the patient alive as the very birthmark that tried to remove was connected to her very heart.
These exclamations broke Georgiana’s sleep. She slowly unclosed her eyes and gazed into the mirror, which her husband had arranged for that purpose. A faint smile flitted over her lips when she recognized how barely perceptible was now that crimson hand which had once blazed forth with such disastrous brilliancy as to scare away all their happiness. But then her eyes sought Aylmer’s face with a trouble and anxiety that he could by no means account for.
“My poor Aylmer!” murmured she. “Poor? Nay, richest, happiest, most favored!” exclaimed he. “My peerless bride, it is successful! You are perfect!”” My poor Aylmer,” she repeated, with a more than human tenderness”, you have aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer. Aylmer, dearest Aylmer, I am dying!” (Hawthorne 13)
Wright justifies this by stating that by stating that humans are not privileged to do everything using science as others are only limited to nature and God the creator (23). Consequently, he states that it is wrong for men to assume that they can even create and prolong life, as only God can do that. Moreover, assuming that they can correct nature may sometimes be failed because as earlier stated, science is limited. Furthermore, it is also clear that Aylmer is only faking his confidence in the procedure, which he intends to use to cure her.
Nature is highly discussed in story, forming another prominent theme. The Oxford Dictionary defines nature as the phenomena of the physical world including landscape, animals, and plants excluding humans and their creation (Stevenson 800).These form a key feature in the story as the author highlights the trees wildlife and even other natural features which science tries to rectify in a bid to bring to perfection. The same dictionary further defines nature as the physical force that causes and regulates the world. A further statement in the dictionary as of states that it is impossible to change the law as of nature. In this regard, the birthmark shows a character who tries to rectify nature and the marks that it left on its victims. He fails to realize that nature cannot be questioned as its marks are indelible. In the eyes of Aylmer, though the birthmark was beautiful and referred to as a charm and as what beautified and enhanced Georgina’s looks, the mark was a blemish of imperfection
Georgiana,” said he, “has it never occurred to you that the mark upon your cheek might be removed?”” No, indeed”, said she, smiling; but perceiving the seriousness of his manner, she blushed deeply. “To tell you the truth it has been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so.” Ah, upon another face perhaps it might,” replied her husband; “but never on yours. No, dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect from the hand 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 earthly imperfection (Hawthorne 12).
In the above portion, he posits that nature leaves imperfection on its entities and he declares that he has the power and the ability to alter it. Consequently, Aylmer tries to become a creator of many things just to prove that he can repair the flaws that nature has left on others. In Georgina’s case, he fails terribly and causes her death with the concoction, which he gives her. The author also capitalizes the first letter in nature throughout the story to show the importance of nature in the work. For example:
‘Mysteries of Nature seemed to open paths into the region of miracle… Aylmer possessed this degree of faith in man’s ultimate control over Nature.’
Staton states that one of the main morals in the story is that nature behaves like a patentee who is jealously guarding her secrets to the point that no man can derive them from her (78). Moreover, the narration shows that despite man’s many attempts, it is almost impossible to assist nature.
Ignorance And Folly
Folly is evident in the story because all along Aylmer thought Georgina was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen to the point of dating and marrying her for years. However, the day he noticed her birthmark he started complaining of how ugly it was and how unbearable it was to behold. Consequently, Georgina expressed her admiration of it stating that most people had only considered it as a charm. However, every time she noticed his sadness whenever he looked at it, she became very depressed. Evidently, from the following section, it is clear that people were dying to kiss the mark as they cherished it.
The centre of Georgiana’s left cheek there was a singular mark, deeply interwoven, as it were, with the texture and substance of her face. In the usual state of her complexion—a healthy though delicate bloom—the mark wore a tint of deeper crimson, which
Imperfectly defined its shape amid the surrounding rosiness. When she blushed it gradually became more indistinct, and finally vanished amid the triumphant rush of blood that bathed the whole cheek with its brilliant glow. But if any shifting motion caused her to turn pale there was the mark again, a crimson stain upon the snow, in what Aylmer sometimes deemed an almost fearful distinctness. Its shape bore not a little similarity to the human hand, though of the smallest pygmy size. Georgiana’s lovers were wont to say that
Some fairy at her birth hour had laid her tiny hand upon the infant’s cheek, and left this impress there intoken of the magic endowments that were to give her such sway over all hearts. Many a desperate swain would have risked life for the privilege of pressing his lips to the mysterious hand (Hawthorne 9)
Folly is shown when Georgina begins to hate herself simply because the husband thinks the mark makes her look less attractive. Despite the many remarks of appreciation that she previously received concerning the mark, she was now convinced she looked ugly simply because the husband felt so (Howe 56). This showed foolishness because she could have asked him why he all along loved and married her without noticing it if at all it was bad. Consequently, she could have opted to protect her life given the fact that the husband was obsessed with science and he would convince her of how he could rectify it (Xowe 34). It is irrational to decide to carry an operation on something that has been there all along and causes no pain to the body. After all, many people considered it charming. Moreover, when the pretests in the Laboratory turned out to be Abortive, Georgina should have loved her life more and refused to proceed. Instead, she said that for the sake of the husband, she would bear the risk just as she would drink poison if it were from his hand. There is a problem in her response and behavior because one ought to love their life above how they honor other people’s opinion. In that regard, one can almost consider her a as a woman with a low self-esteem and who does things to please others (Sterling and Harold 78). However, given the fact that she always knew she was beautiful and many people had expressed it to her as she grew up, one can only deduce the fact that she was just being foolish by following the husband’s proposals despite the many risks involved in the operation (Fetterley 67).
You mistrust your wife; you have concealed the anxiety with which you watch the development of this experiment. Think not so unworthily of me, my husband. Tell me all the risk we run, and fear not that I shall shrink; for my share in it is far less than your own.”
“No, no, Georgiana!” said Aylmer, impatiently; “it must not be”.
“I submit,” replied she calmly. “And, Aylmer, I shall quaff whatever draught you bring me; but it will be on the same principle that would induce me to take a dose of poison if offered by your hand.”
“My noble wife,” said Aylmer, deeply moved, “I knew not the height and depth of your nature until now. Nothing shall be concealed. 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 powerful enough to do aught except to change your entire physical system. Only one thing remains to be tried. If that fail us we are ruined.”
“Why did you hesitate to tell me this?” asked she.” Because, Georgiana” said Aylmer, in a low voice”, there is danger.”
“Danger? There is but one danger—that this horrible stigma shall be left upon my cheek!” cried
Georgiana. “Remove it, remove it, whatever be the cost, or we shall both go mad!” (Hawthorne 11).
Ignorance is also exhibited where Aylmer and Georgina dream beforehand that if they remove the birthmark it will lead to her death. The following morning, she asked him if he remembered and he acted as though he had forgotten because he was in denial where the issue was concerned. Consequently, Georgina also chose to ignore the issue and act as if the dream had no meaning. This led to her death.
“Do you remember, my dear Aylmer,” said she, with a feeble attempt at a smile”, have you any
recollection of a dream last night about this odious hand?”
“None! none whatever!” replied Aylmer….’
‘…Aylmer now remembered his dream. He had fancied himself with his servant
Aminadab, attempting an operation for the removal of the birthmark; but the deeper went the knife, the deeper sank the hand, until at length its tiny grasp appeared to have caught hold of Georgiana’s heart; whence, however, her husband was inexorably resolved to cut or wrench it away. When the dream had shaped itself perfectly in his memory, Aylmer sat in his wife’s presence with a guilty feeling. Truth often finds its way to the mind close muffled in robes of…’ (Hawthorne 6).
Based on all this it is clear that Aylmer’s foolish obsession despite the warning signs led to Georgina’s demise. Similarly, her ignorance and how she foolishly followed her husband’s demand led to their loss.
Marriage, Love, and trust
Marriage and love are also a central theme in the story, as the married couple that seems to be in love is the main basis of the story. One can tell that the two really love each other as Georgina who previously thought her birthmark was attractive now is dissatisfied with it based on the husband’s remarks that it is unattractive (Snodgras 67). Consequently, she becomes more depressed than him, as she will have it removed no matter the consequences. In a similar manner, she trusts him fully as he comments that she could even take poison if it was given to her from his hands. This shows that she fully trusts that he would not harm her and believes that his intentions towards her are pure. On the other hand, Aylmer seems to love her to a similar extent, as any defect on her must be removed to make her look flawless. He seems so distraught from the day he notices the mark until he Fully convinces her to have it removed (Heilman 67). However, their love makes them ignore the real risks that would make them separate via death, as was eventually the case.
In conclusion, ‘The Birthmark’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne is story, which criticizes the love and obsession for science that existed during the 18th century. It was during the reign that innovation was at its highest where people’s scientific knowhow was concerned. Based on that, science fanatics like Aylmer were willing to destroy their happy marriages by trying to reform the defects left by nature but they ended up making sad mistakes and losses. As a result, the book tends to warn people to let nature be nature.
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