Essay, Research Paper: Birth Mark By Hawthorne

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a time of great change in America. In the
mid-nineteenth century, Americans began to experience a shift in focus from the
once stringent religious outlook to a more scientific view of the world and its
natural wonders. Americans, however, did look at these new scientific
discoveries with much hesitation, questioning their long-term effects on society
as a whole. Hawthorne’ s work, “The Birth Mark echoes these sentiments and
combine natural faith with a confidence in science to make a very interesting
tale. This tale and its morality convey a message to the reader that there is a
price for tampering with the natural order of things. This story opens by
explaining how educated and knowledgeable Aylmer is, and the narrator even
suggests that he may have the power to alter nature. “ We know not whether
Aylmer possesses this degree of faith in man’s ultimate control over nature
(Birthmark, 1262 ).”As Aylmer tries to use science to alter nature, or in this
case, the birthmark on his wife’s cheek, his plan backfires and his wife dies.
The death of Georgiana shows that knowledge is dangerous if used in the wrong
way. The influence of the evolution of culture has caused men to educate
themselves, and learn extensive amounts about science. However, some men like
Aylmer take advantage of their intelligence and try to play the role of God.
Aylmer allowed his mind to consume his heart, resulting in the senseless death
of his beautiful wife. Culture teaches men that if they learn enough that they
can manipulate nature; however, in the Birthmark, Hawthorne shows that
intelligence still can’t overcome nature and thus culture is self-destructive.
The fact the whole story is about removing a physical flaw from Georgiana’s
face when she is already obviously beautiful demonstrates the degree to which
Aylmer has allowed this pursuit of knowledge and culture to destroy his ability
to perceive nature’s beauty. In this text, Georgiana and her birthmark
represent nature, and culture is represented by Aylmer. Culture has taught men
to question the flaws of women that they once found intriguing, therefore Aylmer
is challenging nature when he tries to remove it. Aylmer is so wrapped up in
this culture that he treats Georgiana as property. Her opinion about the removal
of the birthmark was of little concern to him. Therefore, culture asserts that
it is not only a separate entity from nature but that it has superior qualities.
Because of Aylmer’s belief that culture is superior to nature, the Creator of
nature and culture alike chose to punish him. The punishment was not in an
effort to be vengeful, but to show him what should have been important to him
was not the birthmark on Georgiana’s face, but the beauty that she possessed
both inside and out that made him desire to spend the rest of his days with her.
“…he failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of Time, and living once and
for all in Eternity, to find the perfect Future in the present (Birthmark,
1273);” therefore, he was forced to spend eternity without the one that truly
loved him—unconditionally.
Bibliography
Michelson, Bruce. Norton Anthology of American Literature. The Birtmark,
pp1261-73.
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