The Birthmark was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the middle of 19th century and was first published in 1843. The story describes the very natural thing, birthmark, and its impact on different minds. An 18th century’s scientist, Aylmer, gets married to a beautiful woman but later on finds his frustration about one feature in her appearance. An author has found a delicate way to criticize and blame the epoch, which he lived in, through this short, but meaningful, story.
One of the passages from the story describes Georgiana’s, Aylmer’s wife, birthmark. Earlier, a conversation between the spouses begins, and an author tries to give every little detail in order for the reader to imagine and picture for herself the cause of the problem. The first thing, which should be noted, is that the author describes Georgiana’s birthmark with a grain of admiration and pity. It seems as if he tries to justify a little imperfection of a woman. Partially, this can be notices in the way he describes, how previous Georgiana’s lovers used to approach and treat her birthmark. After describing a negative approach to a mark by the female figures, he gives an example of Eve of Powers, which can ‘convert to a monster’ by the blue strains in the statuary marble. These author’s comments give a clear picture of a disagreement with the story’s character, Aylmer, concerning his wife’s appearance.
However, in order to understand, why the birthmark of this woman was given such a great attention by the author, it is necessary to go back to the 19th century and to understand the environment, which people used to live in back then. Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in the beginning of the 19th century in America. Most of his life he lived in the epoch of reform and positivism. Reform has brought many changes in people’s perception of religion, science, and society. It has change the role of woman to a great extent. Positivism, in turn, has brought a tendency to consider a person as a product of nature; however, where science could interfere. All these changes created an environment, where people believed that scientists have control over the nature and can bring significant changes to almost any aspect of the process of living. Apparently, Aylmer was one of those scientists, who was determined that perfection of a woman must not be spoiled by any, even the smallest, element of the nature. After his and Georgiana’s marriage he even started questioning his affection toward his wife. He saw a frightening sign in the birthmark of Georgiana and even understood that ‘this one defect grow more and more intolerable with every moment of their united lives’.
Story’s author puts emphasis on the beauty of Georgiana. He does it in order to point out that the birthmark is really the only disadvantage, or, on the contrary, an advantage of her appearance. It is mentioned that different woman’s lovers had different opinions about this specialty of hers. Before her husband mentioned it in a different way, she thought men see it as a magic sign from a fairy. Her previous lovers saw some sort of charm in it, a feature, which differentiates Georgiana from all other women. They thought there was something special about this small sign on the face, which they thought was perfect. Aylmer’s opinion, on the other hand, was somewhat different. He was troubled with a question: why such a beautiful face is spoiled with a birthmark like this? Author describes man’s thoughts and explains that the birthmark would not bother Aylmer that much if there would be even one more defect on her face, or if she would not be beautiful at all. In his wife’s face he saw a nature’s imprint. He found two possible reasons for this birthmark: either for proving that every person on this earth is mortal and does not last forever, or does have to pay for his or her beauty or perfection. Either ways, Aylmer was anxious about this feature of his wife and, as was mentioned above, even started questioning his affection toward her.
The birthmark was located in the center of Georgiana’s cheek and was shaped as a small hand. Its color was one of the reasons, why it was standing out on and striking one’s eye. The color of the birthmark was changing with the change in Georgiana’s emotions. It was disappearing whenever the blood rushed to her face and reappearing whenever she turned pale. Aylmer knew all the nuances of his wife’s face, and the effect her emotions had on the birthmark. However, as one of the determined scientists of that time, this very little and natural feature did not let him enjoy the beauty of his wife to the fullest.
In the end of 18th and in the beginning of 19th century science has made a significant contribution to the women cosmetics and could bring into one’s appearance certain desirable changes. This was a time, when woman became a subject for experiments. At that time it was important for her to look perfect, especially, when she had all the necessary tools for it. Scientists believed that the nature is something, which can be controlled and changed. New discoveries and inventions brought a revolution to the society and people’s minds and proved people to be over the nature. While women were amazed and pleased with the new opportunities, which science could now offer to them, there have been given little thought of the meaning of certain unusual features women possessed. There were different beliefs and different approaches toward life and the human bodies.
Aylmer was a scientist, who appeared to be unable to separate the science from his and his wife’s private life. He, like everyone else, was blinded by the new opportunities, which have appeared, and could not stop from applying his beliefs to their family. Georgiana appeared to be a subject of his critics and deep philosophical thoughts. At some point he has moved his wife to the back and has made science the major purpose of his life. She became one of his tools for examining the world, beliefs of the society, and his own beliefs. He found Georgiana’s birthmark as a contradiction to the common perception of the woman’s body and nature’s role in it. He was determined that leaving this feature on her face and looking at it every day of his life could be a threat for his beliefs. Removing the birthmark could serve Aylmer as a proof of his theories, which he was developing in his head.
Author proves that Aylmer was looking at his wife through the eyes of a scientist by comparing his attitude toward the birthmark to Georgiana’s previous lovers’. In society, which believed that all imperfections of the woman can and must be removed, how could someone think otherwise? Perhaps, her previous lovers were musicians, painters, artists, but not people of the science. They, most probably, truly saw something entirely amazing and magical about this feature of hers. They were able to look at Georgiana with love and admiration without letting anything to interfere with their feelings. She was more than a beautiful body for them, but a special soul, which possessed it. This was the major difference between them and Aylmer, which author tries to show in his story. This difference had a significant impact on the spouses’ relationship and the way Georgiana’s birthmark was perceived. The situation, which Aylmer appeared in, describes and explains his uncertainty and the pressure he was under. Instead of looking at his marriage as an opportunity for building strong and long-lasting relationships with his wife, he concentrated on the wrong things. He concentrated on the appearance of Georgiana, but not on her inner self. He concentrated on his science instead of being himself and becoming a loving and caring husband. Perhaps, he believed that this was exactly the feeling of care and love he felt for her wife, but could not understand the reasons standing behind his every action and word.
Aylmer believed that the nature is something, which does not leave a space for perfection. It constantly reminds a human being of his or her dependence on the decisions ‘made’ by it. He, as a true representative of the science, could not agree with it and to accept it. Especially, he did not want to accept it when having a person so close, who had an obvious sign against his own beliefs. This thought did not give Aylmer a rest, and he was constantly thinking over this little feature of his wife. Instead of loving his wife for who she is inside, he found that she has become a reason for his biggest anxiety. Georgiana was his wife and his closest person. After becoming a married couple, their relationship has reached a new level, where he started looking at her in a different way. He saw a lover in her; a woman, who must be perfect in every way. He needed her to be perfect in sake of his science and his beliefs. He could not live on and exist next to the person, who carried a challenge of his beliefs right on her face. Therefore, unconsciously he decided to give up his love and relationship with his wife for the sake of the science.
In ‘The Birthmark’ author tries to show the way beliefs in society can affect a single person and his or her relationships with other people around. In addition, he tries to describe the way person’s occupation and interests can affect his or her approach to life. The epoch, in which both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Aylmer used to live, brought many changes to the beliefs of the people around them. Some people remained indifferent to the large amount of inventions in the science, and some fell immediately under their influence. There were people, who were against and with the reform; however, the fact that it changed every person’s lives in the 19th century is unquestionable.
However, the saddest effect that reform had brought to the society, which is illustrated in ‘The Birthmark’, is the one on the relationship between men and women. The role of the woman has changed and become somewhat insignificant. She has become a tool for decorating the houses and streets. Scientists have worked hard on making it possible to change woman’s appearance and to make it even more perfect. Unquestionably, this approach has remained till the 21st century.
Marxists Internet Archive. “Value of Knowledge Reference.
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Internet; accessed 4 February 2010
The Literature Network. “Nathaniel Hawthorne”. Available from
Internet; accessed 4 February 2010
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