Summary And Symbolism In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birthmark

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Set in New England during the early half of the 19th century, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” has a presence of early American ideology and a generalized fear of scientific understanding commonplace among some authors of the time. With modern medicine in its infancy, there was a wide-ranging feeling of distrust between theological ideology and general scientific discovery that left medicine in a state of limbo. Many scientific and medical discoveries of the Pre-Modern and Modern eras created a plethora of targets for those who distrusted the scientific community, creating an aura of distrust (Mitchell 133). In “The Birthmark”, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes with the focus of presenting a theme of scientific manipulation of nature’s imperfections…show more content…
Hawthorne was a master at creating abstract comparisons between the physical and psychological aspects contained in his stories, and his use of symbolism helps to frame the characters themselves, as well as contribute to the overall theme of the story. In the story, Aylmer was a very self-centered and egotistical doctor concerned with his own studies and scientific endeavors for much of his life. He only pursued the human connection after a myriad of failed attempts in scientific experiments. According to the suppositions of Jeffrey Howard in his analytical summary of “The Birthmark”, the positioning of Georgina’s birthmark on the left side of her face was symbolic of inferiority. The placement of the birthmark on the left, at the time, was considered substandard to anything on the right, thus symbolically lessening Georgina’s appeal. This directly conflicted with the ego of Aylmer, whom needed an excuse to pacify his desire to perfect on something and achieve some semblance of scientific success (Howard 135). Aylmer, himself, was less than perfect, but his ego prevented him from seeing this. Another example of symbolism recognized in the story is the name of Aylmer’s assistant, Aminadab. Aminadab, stemming from biblical stories in the Old Testament, is a reference to a minor but significant character who was one of the exiled Jews fleeing Egypt into what is now Israel and a direct…show more content…
The utilization of the metaphor gives a chilling glance into the story and paints an ominous tone for which the plot is played out. His use of metaphor in “The Birthmark” is an exceptional example of comparison. Hawthorne likens Georgina’s skin to snow, giving the character a porcelain appearance. Because this is sometimes viewed as a very desirable trait for women to have, this creates an aura of beauty that directly contrasts with the crimson hand on her face. Hawthorne often references Georgina’s cheeks, calling them roses and crimson (Hawthorne 306). Crimson, or red in general, is often viewed as the color of passion and reference by Hawthorne in his story would as a correlation to sin and sexuality, or perhaps the potential for both (Weinstein 53). Hawthorne often references Georgina’s cheek, calling them roses and crimson. These references bring to the forefront of the readers mind the obsession of Aylmer with the birthmark itself. His obsession becomes blinding, to the point where he can no longer see anything of his wife’s features except the hand itself. This is framed perfectly when Aylmer attempts to paint his wife’s portrait, but the portrait becomes distorted everywhere except the birthmark (Hawthorne 309). His inability to see beyond the minor natural flaw becomes the death of his relationship with Georgina, and also her physical death.
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