TheBirthmark by Nathanial Hawthorne
TheBirthmark isa short story written by Hawthorne. The literary work tells of a taleof a scientist who seems passionate about the idea of her wife’sbirthmark being removed. According to the scientist, the primaryreason why he wants the birthmark removed is because he sees it as asign of the human imperfection in his wife. As such, the story can beindicated to be full of symbolism since it tries to give meaning towhat can be categorized as being human. The involvement of ascientist in the story helps in developing the importance of how theyview the world. The chief purpose of this report will be to analyzethe use of symbolism and themes in the literary work and theirimportance, which would be achieved by the analysis of differentclues of symbolism and elements in the story.
TheUse of Symbolism
Thebirthmark on Georgiana’s cheek is itself used symbolically. Fromthe literally work, it is indicated that although Georgiana isperfect in all other things, there is only one thing that causesimperfection on her side, and that is the birthmark. The authorindicates that “at all the seasons which should have been theirhappiest, he invariably and without intending it…reverted to thisone disastrous topic…it became the central point of all a symbol ofimperfection” (Hawthorne 263). In this case, the author wants tobring a clear picture that despite Georgiana and Aylmer being in amarriage relationship, there is something that seems to disrupt theirmarriage. Being a scientist, Aylmer is seen as a smart man who canrelate well to the nature. So, the birthmark on the cheek of his wifecan be an indication of immorality in the wife that may be causingimperfection in her. This is the reason why instead of themcelebrating their marriage, the topic of her imperfection comes in.Although there is nowhere that the author indicates that Georgiana isimmoral, the reader is left asking why Aylmer is obsessed with theelimination of the birthmark in her wife’s cheek. It can be arguedthat Aylmer desired his wife to change her immoral behavior so thatthey could have an excellent marriage.
Besides,from the author’s point of view, “everything that has life isflawed in a way” so as to remind individuals that everything thatlives will finally die. Thus, the birthmark on the cheek Aylmer’swife may be considered as a symbol of mortality, which is a flaw thatis in Georgiana. The argument considering the birthmark as a symbolthat depicts mortality can be perceived as unquestionable since theauthor declares it in the story where he indicates that “thecrimson hand conveyed the ineludible objection in which mortalityclutches the purest and highest….” (Hawthorne 422). Also, it isindicated as “the symbol of wife’s liability to sin, sorrow,decay and death” (422).
Thesign of birthmark may also be used symbolically to show the abilitythat Georgiana has. From the author, the reader learns that the markon the cheek of Aylmer’s wife is that of a hand. It is worthquestioning why not another image, but a hand. It can be argued thatthe birthmark was of a hand in order to show the abilities ofGeorgiana because a hand plays a significant role in a human’slife. It is the hand that helps individuals to perform a lot ofactivities, which indeed shows their capabilities in the activities.In the case of Georgiana, the hand on her cheek can be an indicationof her strength as a woman.
Inthe story, Georgiana, Aminadab and Aylmer have been usedsymbolically. The characterization of Georgiana symbolizes human lifeand how they eventually fade away. This is depicted through the storyof Georgiana. The author shows how the human soul is connected to thehuman experiences. Aylmer acts as a symbol for the divine whileAminadab acts as a symbol for the earthly. This is because in variousinstances, Aylmer receives godlike descriptions while in differentsituations Aminadab is viewed as a brute. Throughout the literarywork, Aylmer is depicted to associate himself with claims that are ofa deity for instance, he tells his wife not to distrust his powerwhich “might have enlightened in creating a being that is lessperfect” (Hawthorne 423). Indeed, in another part, he claims tohave the potential of making a portion that can “prolong life foryears”. His words can be linked to those of a mythical god, who haspowers to command some of the things that only God can do.Alternatively, the author displays Aminadab as a symbol for humanbeings where he indicates that “…the indescribable earthinessthat incrusted him he seemed to be a representation of man’sphysical nature” (Hawthorne 424).
Theflower that is shown to Georgiana by Aylmer is a display ofperfection elusiveness. The moment Georgiana attempted plucking theflower, “the entire plant became affected by blight, and its leavesturned coal-black” (Hawthorne 308). Although Georgiana tries to geta perfect flower, her touch makes the plant to wither. This is asymbol for the imperfections that are inherent to individuals.Further, the depiction of human imperfection is displayed by theflower continually dying and not coming to life.
Theuse of “elixir vitae” is also seen to be a symbol for an attemptto defy the power of God. From the story, it is apparent that elixirhas “the ability of extending the life of an individualindefinitely” (Hawthorne 322). This being the case, its use can beportrayed to give a person the power of a deity. This is dangerousbecause it eliminates the importance of God as the creator, who hasthe power of establishing when one would die. The use of elixir vitaeby Aylmer is a symbol of a broken relationship amid man and God sincehe is seen to play the authority of God.
Theauthor uses the red color symbolically. He describes the ambiguous,the innocent, as well as the evil using the color. The Georgiana’sblush innocence is labeled as “rosy” and is a symbol for thefirst flushes of a freshly wedded bride. However, it changesextremely to become the color associated with distress as Georgianacomes to the realization that Aylmer does not like her birthmark.Also, this is the color that Aylmer turns into, from white, afterdiscovering Georgiana in the laboratory and accused her of havingmistrusted him. Thus, the red color in the story holds theconnotations of evil, malice, and anger.
InTheBirthmark,there are important themes that emerge which are critical in theexploration of the literary work. The themes build from the beginningof the story and take a central stage in making the audienceunderstand the message of the short story in a more open manner. Oneof the most significant themes in the story is that of science versusnature. This theme tries to show the interaction that is there amidthe knowledge of science and the natural world. From the story, it isapparent that although humans may have attained successfulexperiments through science, they are not in a position to contradictnature since the natural world appears to be powerful than science.For instance, although Aylmer has gained a lot of knowledge throughscience and has the capacity of making lovely sights, as well asamazing aromas from nothing, he cannot defeat nature by prolongingthe life of Georgiana whom he loves because he is not in a positionto control nature (Eckstein 514). Besides, the theme can be portrayedthrough the birthmark of Georgiana. It was not Georgiana’s decisionto determine where the birthmark would be, but something beyond hercontrol did. In the story, Aylmer has the determination of gettingrid of the birthmark, but he does not have the power to do so.Indeed, the urge to control nature through the use of science byAylmer only results in death and unhappiness. Therefore, from theliterary work, it is evident that science cannot defeat nature sinceAylmer tries it but only ends up losing.
Anothertheme that is significant in the story is that of foolishness ofsearching for perfection. According to the author, “Aylmer wasalways searching for solutions on how to remove the imperfections ofGeorgiana and make her perfect” (Hawthorne 264). Aylmer was relyingon the knowledge he had acquired in trying to search for perfection(Gale 67). However, all this was foolishness because he could notsucceed even how much he attempted. It was foolishness to search forperfection because the actual perfection can only come from heaven.The urge to perfect Georgiana through the use of potion and scienceknowledge was irrational because the idea of creating an ideal womancannot be realized by man, but by God. In fact, it was all in vaintrying to look for perfection since it could not be achievedinstead, Aylmer ended up destroying what God had created in the nameof perfecting. From this theme, it is clear that one cannot competewith God and succeed in eliminating things that are His own creation.
Obsessionis another important theme that comes out in the story. The literarywork shows obsession to be a dangerous aspect since it results toharming others even to the point of death. Although strong emotionstowards each other are essential for the development of love, theymay become worse. In the story, Aylmer and Georgiana do not just loveeach other but they are obsessed with one another. Aylmer is alsoobsessed with science to the point that he even loves it more than heappreciates his wife. As a matter of fact, Aylmer only spends timewith his love the moment he needs to study her and the birthmark inthe laboratory. Although he loves Georgiana, his obsession forscience does not stop him from giving her a poisonous potion knowingwell that it could kill her. He could not see the danger in thepotion, but desired to have his experiment completed. Alternatively,Georgiana is so much obsessed with his husband that she is ready todo anything to please him (Howard 133). After consuming the potionand facing death, she does not put any blame on her husband but sheseems happy that Aylmer tried very hard.
Furthermore,an important theme that comes out in the story is that of mortality.As humans, there is one thing that is shared among all individualsand that is mortality. This is because all humans face death at onetime or another. This theme emerges in the literary work and Aylmertries to claim that he has the capacity of elongating the period thatone can die. However, it seems that his scientific knowledge cannotsucceed in making individuals immortal. For instance, although hegave a potion to Georgiana, he was not to save her or correct herimperfections resulting in her death. The theme of mortality is welldepicted through the death Georgiana. From the author’s point ofview, it is human nature to be flawed due to their mortality nature.It is due to the urge to seek perfection that this theme becomesevident in the literary work.
Inaddition, the theme of marriage emerges as a critical subject in thework. This theme comes clearly through the main characters Georgianaand Aylmer. These two characters marry out of the love they had foreach other however, their marriage was not a successful one becauseGeorgiana came to understand that Aylmer did not fully love her dueto the birthmark that she had on her cheek. Further, the marriage isnot based on a mutual relationship since Aylmer is not committed tothe marriage due to the commitment he has given to his scientificexperiments. Therefore, the marriage portrayed in the story is not anexcellent example since there is mutual association.
Relevanceof Symbolism and Themes
Theuse of symbolism in the short story is of essence because it helps ingiving a character another meaning that is hidden from the actual onethat can be seen. When this is the case, it is feasible for theauthor to present ideas that could not be exposed openly. Thus,through the use of symbolism, the author has been capable ofrevealing ideas that he could otherwise felt afraid providing openlyto the audience (Brodskai︠a︡ 27). Furthermore, through the usesymbolism in the story, it has been possible for the audience tointeract with the ideas presented in the literary work. This iscritical in ensuring that there is full engagement of audience whilereading and analyzing the work. Alternatively, the importance ofthemes in the short story is to appeal to the intellect and emotionsof the audience.
Inconclusion, symbolism has been used intensively in TheBirthmark.The birthmark on Georgiana’s cheek is itself used symbolically.From the literally work, it is indicated that although Georgiana isperfect in all other things, there is only one thing that causesimperfection on her side, and that is the birthmark. Besides, thetheme can be portrayed through the birthmark of Georgiana. It was notGeorgiana’s decision to determine where the birthmark would be, butsomething beyond her control did. In the story, Aylmer has thedetermination of getting rid of the birthmark but he does not havethe power to do so. Indeed, the urge to control nature through theuse of science by Aylmer only results in death and unhappiness. Thesign of birthmark may also be used symbolically to show the abilitythat Georgiana has. From the author, the reader learns that the markon the cheek of Aylmer’s wife is that of a hand. It is worthquestioning why not another image, but a hand. It can be argued thatthe birthmark was of a hand in order to show the abilities ofGeorgiana. In the story, Georgiana, Aminadab and Aylmer have beenused symbolically. The characterization of Georgiana symbolizes humanlife and how they eventually fade away. This is depicted through thestory of Georgiana. The use of “elixir vitae” is also seen to bea symbol for an attempt to defy the power of God. From the story, itis apparent that elixir has the ability of extending the life of anindividual indefinitely. This being the case, its use can beportrayed to give a person the power of a deity. In addition, thereare different themes that are significant in the short story and theyinclude marriage, science versus nature, obsession, foolishness ofsearching for perfection, and mortality. It can be argued that theuse of symbolism was critical in ensuring that the author revealsideas that could not have been revealed openly through the samecharacters.
Brodskai︠a︡,N V. Symbolism.New York: Parkstone International, 2012. Print.
Eckstein,Barbara. Hawthorne’s“The Birthmark”: Science and Romance as Belief.Newberry College, 511-519. Print.
Gale,Cengage L. AStudy Guide for Nathaniel Hawthorne`s the Birthmark.Boston: Cengage Learning Inc., 2016. Print.
Hawthorne,Nathaniel. TheBirthmark.New York: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016. Print.
Howard,Jeffrey. NathanielHawthorne`s The Birth-Mark. TheExplicator,Vol. 70 (2), 133-136, 2012. Print.