Symbolism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark"

Essay by LoddelydotHigh School, 12th gradeA+, January 2003

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Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birthmark is a story wrought with potent symbolism and destructive irony. It is the story of a cerebral scientist's imprudent and superficial endeavor, and the all too trusting wife that had faith in him. This short story provides us with a moral allegory and theme that is universally vital through symbolism. The crimson hand-shaped mark bestowed upon the otherwise perfect face of a beautiful woman contains much meaning. Through his use of symbolism, Hawthorne addresses the issues of science and manipulation, humanity's flaws, and mankind's mortality.

The birthmark bequeathed upon Georgiana's otherwise perfect face symbolizes many things. One of which, is the idea that scientists are infatuated with perfecting nature even while guessing the inevitable consequences. The main characters in the story are a married couple by the names Aylmer and Georgiana. There is no doubt that the two are truly in love, yet, there is a twist to this love story.

Georgina is perfect in every way, except for one tiny flaw that Aylmer can't accept. "At all the seasons which should have been their happiest, he invariably and without intending it...reverted to this one disastrous [the mark] became the central point of all...a symbol of imperfection." (263) Being a scientist, Aylmer decides that he must find a way to rid Georgiana and himself of the hideous birthmark. Yet, all went wrong; not only did the birthmark fade, but also so did the life within her. Aylmer's obsession with manipulating nature was the eventual downfall of his true love. Yet, he did not care about the demise because the power of changing nature had driven him to ignore the fact the there may be consequences.

In addition, the birthmark symbolizes the "fatal flaw" that inevitably exists in the "real world". Nothing and...