Introduction to Nathaniel Hawthorne's " The Birthmark"
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “ The Birthmark.” Hawthorne’s Short Stories. Ed. Newton Arvin. New York: Vintage Books, 1946. 147-165.
You can find the short story online here: http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/1777/
-Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of this story, was an important early American writer who wrote in the early to middle 1800s during the romantic era. Many of his stories are allegories, as this specific one is said to be, and are influenced by his puritan beliefs. In this story, a scientist settles down and marries a beautiful woman by the name of Georgiana. One particular evening, many days into their marriage, Aylmer, the scientist, notices a birthmark on his bride's face that is very distinct and in the clear shape of a hand- he sees it is a major flaw in her beauty and it begins to haunt him every time he looks at her. While Georgiana so innocently saw it as a "charm", Aylmer corrupts her view and asks, " has it never occurred to you that the mark upon your cheek might be removed?" Aylmer can no longer look at his wife without seeing this mark as a flaw; he does not see his lovely wife any longer, he sees damage. Since Georgiana sees that she can no longer have a happy marriage with this mark on her face, she allows Aylmer to remove it, no matter what the danger. While Aylmer works to redeem his wife's value and make her more lovable, the absence of the handprint from her face leads to her death.
-This story seems basic and, perhaps, bland. However, while there is not much actually going on in the story in terms of an intense and exciting plot line, the development of the characters and the sympathy that they demand from readers, along with the symbolism and moral meaning that can be derived from this text is where my appreciation for this short story lies. The characters of Aylmer and Georgiana were incredibly human to me, and the more that Aylmer became focused on changing his innocent and sweet wife instead of loving her, the more that I wanted to jump into the pages of the text and strangle him. The problems that Aylmer finds with his wife and his constant discontentment are human problems and, thus, easy to relate to. I got to the end of this short story and found myself incredibly emotionally connected to the story. I also appreciated how this story was so simple, yet was so relatable and complex at the same time because of the symbols that Hawthorne chose to use and the uncertainty of the ending. I found myself seeking to understand the symbolic nature of the hand and why Hawthorne would end his text with a mysterious laughter.
- I’m having a tough time relating this story with one that we have read this semester. I think that Hawthorne really wants his readers to come away from this text questioning many things: our control over others, our obsession with the physical world, and our definition of love. I think, in keeping these concepts in mind, one piece to compare this story to is “Porphria’s Lover” (I think we read this in class….), the men in both of these works seek to do what is best for the woman, but end up ruining them in their vain attempts of finding perfection and pleasure in the physical world of beauty.