Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology
Professor Steven Homan
15 December 2017
Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" focuses on how dangerous or even deadly love can be if it turns into an obsession. Both of the main characters, Aylmer and Georgiana, allowed their love to turn into an infatuation and as a result it cost Georgiana her life. The story highlights the human nature and how we are designed to be flawed; yet we still try to reach the unattainable, perfection. Hawthorne achieves his purpose through the use of foreshadowing and allusion to help the reader better understand how human emotion and drive work. The main character of “The Birthmark”, Aylmer, decides to step back into his past life of being a scientist and attempts to create the ideal women. He ultimately fails because perfection only exists in God’s world, not on earth.
To begin with, the author executes his purpose through the use of foreshadowing to convey the message that if you try to strive for perfection, you will fail no matter how close you think you are. During the short story, Aylmer has a dream that he attempted to remove his wife’s birthmark by drilling it out, apparently the birthmark ran so deep inside her that when he drilled it out she died. Later on in the story he approached the same unachievable goal a different way. He gave Georgiana a potion which indeed removed her only flaw and as a result killed her. Hawthorne’s use of foreshadowing in his short story portrays the concept of immediate failure when trying to play God. Looking further into Aylmer’s dream, the reader can view Georgiana’s birthmark as a symbol that represents her and who she is. “To explain this conversation, it must be mentioned that in 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” (7). Since the birthmark ran so deep inside her it makes the reader think if she would even be the same without it. Another example of foreshadowing is when Hawthorne includes Aylmer’s past experiments and how even though they were all so close to achieving its purpose, somehow, they always failed; proving that being and attaining perfection is not possible.
The author also illustrates how love can easily turn into obsession multiple times in the story. One clear example is Aylmer’s love for science and fixing things. In the short story Hawthorne adds how Aylmer wound spend an excessive amount of time in his lab with his assistant. Even the way Aylmer described his assistant planted the idea that Aylmer might have a thing for his assistant into the reader’s head. The author mentioned that Aylmer would spend more time playing with science than spending time with his own wife. Leading onto the next idea that Aylmer might of never love Georgiana to begin with. He might of just been in love with the idea of removing her flaw and finally “creating the ideal woman.” As for Georgiana, her love for her husband evidently turned to an obsession when she agreed to let Aylmer experiment on her. Even though she was well aware that what he was doing was dangerous she still put her own life at risk to please Aylmer. All together Aylmer knew the potion was dangerous and had a chance of losing his wife, but his obsession for science and overcoming human nature didn’t stop him. As well as Georgiana’s obsession for her husband and pleasing him cost her her life. Which supports the authors theme that if you allow you love for something it can easily turn into an obsession, resulting in danger.
The author uses allusion to help the reader better understand and make connections while reading the story. He basically refers to the story of “Pygmalion” to make his story come to life, only difference is he changes the ending from happily ever after to tragedy. In the story of “Pygmalion”, Pygmalion was an artist who valued his work and took great pride in his ivory statues. He fell in love with one sculpture in particular, of a beautiful woman whom he named Galatea. He worshiped his master piece by showering it in jewels and clothing it, pretending she was actually alive. Pygmalion went to the temple of the goddess of love and beauty to pray to Aphrodite for a wife just like the statue he had made. Aphrodite decided to one day visit the statue to see for herself what the man kept asking for. When Aphrodite noticed the statue resembled her she was so pleased that she brought the statue to life, granting his wish. In return Pygmalion and Galatea brought gifts to Aphrodite’s temple every now and then. This story resembles Hawthorne’s story of the birthmark because both of the main characters were deeply infatuated with their work. Both strived to attain the perfect wife. Only difference is that Pygmalion worked with the higher power and asked for what he wanted while Aylmer went against the high power and tried to reach his goal on his own.
In conclusion, the author of “The birthmark” was able to communicate his purpose to the readers. He established the line between human nature and science. He interconnected the idea that when love becomes an obsession it can be dangerous and sometimes even fatal. He then uses foreshadowing to hint at the reader of multiple cases of how flawed a human being is and how we cannot be flawless because we are not god and we cannot do his work. Hawthorne even use the art of allusion to help the reader connect two stories together and understand his purpose for writing the short story.
McLeod, Saul. “Saul McLeod.” Id Ego Superego | Simply Psychology, 1 Jan. 1970, www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html.
Mythica., Encyclopedia. Pygmalion, www.pantheon.org/articles/p/pygmalion.html.
“Science, Self-Deification, and Gnosticism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's.” Categories, www.frontporchrepublic.com/2010/07/science-self-deification-and-gnosticism-in-nathaniel-hawthorne%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cthe-birthmark%E2%80%9D/.