Loss of Identity in The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne: An Analysis

Unfortunate Loss of Identity

“The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is not a typical story in today's world; written in the nineteenth century, the narrative holds a poetic intricacy within its phrasing and word choice that creates an atmosphere of mystery. The complex tale tells the story of a scientist named Aylmer who cannot stand the birthmark that rests upon his wife Georgiana, even though she is a natural beauty with a tender heart. In order to satisfy her love for Aylmer, Georgiana changes the optimistic stance she holds on her birthmark, and in the end, Georgiana's conversion to Aylmer's condemning view of nature leads only to the death of her individual identity.

At the beginning of "The Birthmark” Georgiana believes that her birthmark is a blessing and a charm. The birthmark, which rests on Georgiana's left cheek, is “of the smallest pygmy size," and “its shape bore not a little similarity to the human hand.” While the birthmark is oddly shaped and quite visible when Georgiana is pale, like "a crimson stain upon the snow,” it is so miniscule that it appears almost as little as a blemish, and when Georgiana blushes, “it gradually became more indistinct, and finally vanished amid the surrounding rosiness.

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” The size and visibility of the birthmark make it hardly noticeable; therefore, the significance of the birthmark to her appearance and personality is very minute as well. Many people who loved Georgiana through the years cherished her birthmark; most said that "some fairy at her birth hour had laid her tiny hand upon the infant's cheek" and the small hand imprint represented the magic endowments that were to give her such sway over all hearts.

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” Georgiana took the loving reception she received from others and created for herself a positive identity; she knew the birthmark was part of her, and if others thought it was a charm, she “was simple enough to imagine it might be so." The people who admired Georgiana's birthmark influenced Georgiana and enabled her to build her own opinion which she put her faith in, and through the years, Georgiana accepted her birthmark as a unique characteristic.

Aylmer, on the other hand, does not hold the optimistic perspective of the birthmark that Georgiana chooses to accept. Aylmer views Georgiana's birthmark as a flaw that completely undermines her perfect physical beauty; Aylmer believes that Georgiana's birthmark is "the visible mark of earthly imperfection," and it “shocks” him to the core. In Aylmer's eyes, Georgiana is but another example of how nature scars creation enough to flaw its perfect beauty; Aylmer believes that the birthmark is "the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature...stamps ineffaceably on all her productions...to imply... that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain.” The fact that nature would place a flaw, however minor, on a beautiful human being such as Georgiana, drives Aylmer crazy. Aylmer, “seeing her otherwise so perfect...found this one defect grow more and more intolerable." Aylmer cannot let Georgiana, a nearly perfect creation, remain in her imperfect state when he, a man with a scientific background, has the knowledge to possibly surpass nature and God and fix imperfect creations.

Georgiana's love for Aylmer and her troubled heart clash and create turmoil within her; Georgiana knows she loves Aylmer but is confused due to his hateful outbursts against her birthmark. Aylmer tells Georgiana that he does not know "whether to term” her birthmark "a defect or beauty,” and the tension grows when Georgiana slowly starts noticing Aylmer's "glances with peculiar expression” and begins "to shudder at his gaze." Georgiana does not know how to handle his criticisms since she grew up in an atmosphere accepting of her birthmark, and this makes Georgiana doubt her love towards Aylmer; as Georgiana says, someone "cannot love what shocks" them. However, after reading Aylmer's scientific journal, Georgiana realizes that even with his hurtful words, she still loves him. As she read, “Georgiana reverenced Aylmer and loved him more profoundly than ever” Georgiana accepts that Aylmer is not the best scientist, but her love deepens for Aylmer and his unsuccessful experiments. After spending time with the journal, Georgiana realizes that she truly does love Aylmer.

Georgiana is truly in love with Aylmer, and her optimistic beliefs about her birthmark clash with Aylmer's perspective, building a wall in their relationship. Georgiana, feeling lost, is faced with two choices: either stand firm in her individual beliefs and risk Aylmer's love or cave into his condemning perspective and sustain their relationship; Georgiana chooses the latter.

Georgiana states, “I know not what may be the cost to both of us to rid me of this fatal birthmark,” but “if there be the remotest possibility of it, let the attempt be made at whatever risk.” Georgiana fully dedicates herself to the removal of her birthmark, her earthly imperfection, and she fully gives her life over to Aylmer's tainted love of science. Georgiana realizes that her “share” in the project “is far less than his [Aylmer's] own” and sees how Aylmer's trials and experiments have affected his physical and mental health, making him look as “pale as death, anxious and absorbed.” Georgiana throws out any concern she may have for herself and worries about Aylmer's safety more. Not only does Georgiana throw away her safety, but she Georgiana gives up any will to live, for she exclaims "either remove this dreadful hand [birthmark), or take my wretched life!” Georgiana knows that Aylmer will continue to look upon her birthmark with disgust if it is not removed, such as when Aylmer "could not restrain a strong convulsive shudder” because of the “intense glow of the birthmark upon the whiteness of her [Georgiana's] cheek.” In Georgiana's eyes, it would be better to die than remain under Aylmer's scrutiny.

Abandoning her optimistic beliefs about her birthmark, Georgiana loses her personal identity and becomes a copy of Aylmer's cynical perspective. Aylmer continuously trials new remedies to save Georgiana from her "bloody mark," and the disdain for the birthmark fully consumes Georgiana. Georgiana eventually concludes at one point “not even Aylmer...hated it [the birthmark] so much as she.” Even with the possibility of danger in a final experiment, Georgiana now believes that "there is but one danger—that this horrible stigma shall be left upon my cheek!" Aylmer's scornful view has finally run its course; Georgiana has completely forsaken her previous beliefs, leaving behind her old persona. Georgiana's self-confidence also deteriorates; before taking Aylmer's final potion, Georgiana states “being what I find myself, methinks I am of all mortals the most fit to die.” Feeling ugly and unworthy of life due to Aylmer's constant attacks and trials, Georgiana feels that dying would be an appropriate outcome if the birthmark cannot be removed. Georgiana's personal conclusion does come to pass, and Georgiana leaves without her original beliefs, her personal identity.

Georgiana had the opportunity to stand in her optimistic beliefs about her birthmark, her charm, but she instead takes on Aylmer's perspective and gives up her personal beliefs. By doing so, Georgiana forsakes a life of contentment and happiness for a hell of constant scrutiny and disdain for her birthmark, a trait that she cannot control, and she loses her original identity of elegance and grace. "The Birthmark," while an older tale, can still enrapture readers of today with its complex storyline and conceptual questions, for no one will ever know what would have happened if Georgiana had stood firm in her personal beliefs.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Loss of Identity in The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne: An Analysis. (2022, Mar 31). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/an-analysis-of-the-unfortunate-loss-of-identity-in-the-birthmark-by-nathaniel-hawthorne-essay

Loss of Identity in The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne: An Analysis essay
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