Critical Analysis Essay of The Birthmark
The Birthmark is short story written by the American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. It follows the story of Aylmer and his obsession of removing the birthmark of his beautiful wife Georgina. His unnatural fixation to his wife’s birthmark even consumes him in his sleep as he dreams of cutting it off much like scraping an apple off its skin (Snodgrass 29). Within the narrative, the author explores two important themes. This includes the unattainability of perfection along with the opposing poles of science and the natural world.
One of the major themes presented in this story is perfection which was exemplified by Aylmer. More particularly, the main character was obsessed with the idea of making his wife perfect by removing the birthmark off her cheeks. Georgina was already a beautiful woman. In fact, many men would risk their life in order to kiss her birthmark. Aylmer on the hand, believes that this mark on his wife’s skin is but a flaw that should be erased. This explains irrational obsession continues to follow him in his dreams. And even in his waking hours, all that he can see is his wife’s imperfection. This desire for fixation however, will never be possible. Even Hawthorne suggests that the concept of perfection is something that does not exist on earth. Georgina herself also understands this. She knows that the birthmark is but a superficial indication of her wife’s impossible quest for perfection. This is best exemplified in the passage:
“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 not be; for his spirit was ever on the march, ever ascending… requiring something that was beyond the scope of the instant before” (Hawthorne 34).
This quote only shows Aylmer’s deep insanity and madness that comes from his quest for perfection. Georgina realizes that even if she managed to give him this demand, her triumph would be but short lived. This is simply because after that, he would still be demanding for more. In the end, Aylmer’s deranged wish to rid of the birthmark caused Georgina her life.
Another important theme in the story is the opposing poles of nature and science. In fact, this is a story that is touched by wild scientific experiment which was conducted by Aylmer. Hence, science in this story is represented by Aylmer, whereas nature is mirrored by the character of Georgina. As a scientist, Aylmer tries his best to create a powerful medicine or portion which could rid of Georgina’s flaw or birthmark. But what is more interesting about this piece is that despite the powerful potion which he asked his wife to drink in order to remove the birthmark, the power of nature still prevails in the end. Georgia exemplifies the power of nature over science as her birthmark captivates almost everyone who looks at it. Aylmer on the other hand, because of his desire to control nature results in the death of his wife (Sterling 167).
Based on the points provided, it can be argued that Hawthorne, in this story, used the powerful themes of perfection as well as science and nature. Perfection in this story is exemplified by Aylmer and his deep desire to make his wife even more perfect by removing her birthmark. Alternately, the themes of science versus nature are demonstrated by the relationship and the characters of Aylmer and Georgina. Aylmer mirrors the power of science which desires to control nature; while Georgina symbolizes nature which triumphs over science at the end of the story.
Hawthorne, N. The Birthmark. NY: Perfection Learning Corporation, 2007
Snodgrass, M. Gothic Literature. NY: Infobase Publishing, 2009
Sterling, L. Bloom’s How to Write about Nathaniel Hawthorne. NY: Infobase Publishing, 2009