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Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Review

The short story Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne explores the theme that humans have been concerned about for thousands of years. Telling a fantasy story about a scientist Aylmer and his wife Georgiana, the author focuses on the man’s desire to change his wife, which grows into obsession in the course of time. Hawthorne demonstrates the fact that living beings are imperfect, so excess strive for perfection leads to actual dying, either physically or morally.

The name of the story suggests a little detail, a point on Georgiana face, which draws her husband’s attention to her imperfection. He is irritated by this idea and cannot put up with realizing that his wife is not ideal. He gets so much focused on the birthmark that he gets obsessed with this thought and it obscures all her beauty from him.

At first, when Aylmer suggests that she might want to remove the mark, Georgiana gets hurt because many of her worshipers admired it and believed that this little sign of imperfection give her special charm and individuality. However, her husband does not agree, he sees this mark as a sign of sin that tars her heavenly face. He is obsessed with an idea of making perfection out of her, so she gives in. In fact, she loses faith in herself and starts thinking that her husband is right about trying to make her ideal, that this is a sign of his love.

In his laboratory where many wonders of his labor are gathered, he is going to give her a special potion that will change her face after she drinks it. It does but she dies as a result, having impeccable skin on her face now. It is remarkable that  Aylmer is not afraid of the fact that his treatment can be lethal to her, perfection is more important than love and more important that life. So he prefers rather to kill his wife than to tolerate a living reminder that humanity is sinful and far from heaven.

Georgiana dies because perfection and life are not compatible, only in heaven such purity is possible. So, the author symbolically takes her to heaven to demonstrate that attempts to play the role of God are vain. Perfection does not make happy, and heaven is not possible and not necessary on earth.

One interesting aspect of the story is contrasting nature and science. In a way, this story is similar to Shelly’s Frankenstein where this conflict was solved not in favor of science. Hawthorne holds the same point of view, he demonstrates that the things that Aymler creates in his laboratory are amazing but dead. The author questions the very idea of science that goes against nature. He believes that any experiments on God’s territory are dangerous and fatal because an imperfect being cannot create perfection.

Contrasting nature and science, the author demonstrates that despite the woman’s death the power of nature is higher than that of science. For instance, Georgiana’s signing has soothing effect on her husband. After all, the story demonstrates that it is not death that should be escaped because death is natural, everything has its beginning and end. Instead, he conveys an idea that improving other people can lead to the deadlock in the end and make one cross a moral borderline.

Overall, the theme of perfection and the author’s attitude to it is revealed quite clearly in the story. He demonstrates that fixation on the flaws blinds a person from seeing the real beauty, not a laboratory one. In other words, people are beautiful because they are imperfect and accepting this fact can help one be happy and satisfied.