Perfect Obsession in The Birthmark

The persistent pursuit for perfection has always been and continues to be a dominant force in human nature. It’s an unattainable goal that can only be imagined or dreamed but is evidently unreachable. But what happens when the quest to overcome imperfection becomes an obsession; an obsession so uncontrollable that one is affected by its wraths? In Nathanial Hawthorne’s “Birthmark”, a captivating narrative and distinct characterization is bestowed upon the reader, as one journeys through the mind of a man with a desire to have power and control over nature as a result of an intoxicating obsession.

As a result, we come face to face with an obsessive madness that is so powerful that one’s infatuated actions is a result of another’s unjustifiable demise.

Set in the late 1700’s, “The Birthmark” is a short story seen as a part of the Dark Romantic Era where the works of such writers as Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickenson and, of course, Nathaniel Hawthorne were prominent.

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It was at this time, that themes of horror, tragedy and the supernatural were present as to introduce a dark side of humanity, insanity and tragic fate. In Hawthorne’s writing of “The Birthmark” we see these elements of this genre as he presents a conflict between science and nature when he attempts to control human imperfection due to the obsessive manner in which he has developed for his craft. The plot is set when Aylmer, a superb scientist, who has since deserted his work to marry becomes fascinated with the thought of removing a birthmark shaped like a small hand from his wife’s cheek.

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He considers such a feature to be a flaw in her otherwise perfected beauty although other men see it as quite captivating. While Georgiana is in disagreement to this experiment, her dedication and infatuation with Aylmer takes precedent over her well-being and she hurtfully agrees to her husband carrying out this task; a horrific task that has a disastrous ending.

As we see early in the story, it is clear, that Aylmer’s passion for a faultless science turns into an obsession as he goes on a relentless crusade to obtain the flawless beauty of his wife. At first glance you may think that his obsessive nature stems from feelings of disgust toward the small red birthmark as he uses metaphorical language like “a crimson stain upon the snow” when referring to this trivial physical defect that Georgiana has on her face. This phrase gives a mental image as to while Georgiana’s appearance presents as seamless; to Alymer the mark is a fault amidst the beauty. However, as the story continues it becomes apparent that Aylmer’s fixation is with his scientific craft and not necessarily the birthmark. As a matter of fact, there is a point in the tale when Aylmer states “Fear not, dearest!” “Do not shrink from me! Believe me, Georgiana, I even rejoice in this single imperfection, since it will be such a rapture to remove it.” Such a statement supports the fact that Aylmer is more crazed in the endeavor to remove the birthmark through scientific means that he is with thought of his wife being perfect.

This state of mind is consistent with the narrative’s time period as it was an age when science was not only evolving but fairly misunderstood, therefore, scientists were curious making it not unusual for their love of science to overshadow the love for a woman. Because of this, you see an enthusiasm that not only consumes his whole being but somewhat makes him unsuitable to be a positive force in his relationship. With his main focus being to “correct nature” this in return causes the absence of romance. With that, it can be said that Aylmer indeed had a love for his wife but also had the same for science creating a rivalry; with scientific research being the favorable in Aylmer’s eyes.

Yet, while the words that Aylmer often spoke in relation to the birthmark clearly displayed his obsession for science, Hawthorne also thoroughly showed his increasing obsessiveness and loss of control through Aylmer’s actions. For example, after agreeing to the removal of the birthmark, Aylmer isolates Georgiana in the lab not only controlling her environment by having no natural light nor any touch with the outside world but at the same time creating optical illusions and lifelike images to show his scientific capabilities. While you would think his time spent with Georgiana would be more affectionate, it seems that he only communicates with her when studying her birthmark and even then she is left alone for hours while he works with his lab assistant.

Furthermore, although Aylmer received forewarnings as to the danger of the experiment on several different occasions, he still prepares to move forward with his experimentation. It was in a dream that he was shown signs that the birthmark was Georgiana’s lifeline as the roots of her birthmark were connected to her heart. Hawthorne states “Aylmer now remembered his dream. He had fancied himself with his servant Aminadab, attempting an operation for the removal of the birthmark; but the deeper went the knife, the deeper sank the hand, until at length its tiny grasp appeared to have caught hold of Georgiana's heart; whence, however, her husband was inexorably resolved to cut or wrench it away”. While the elements of foreshadowing portrayed in the dream are present showing Georgiana’s harm, Aylmer still chooses to ignore the signals, using them more as ammunition to feed his obsession rather than a warning. Needless to say, in the end, Aylmer’s lack of restraint for his obsession prevails, and he gives Georgiana the potion that leads to her ultimate death.

Now while there isn’t a question as to the compulsive obsession that Aylmer holds, the audience should not overlook Georgiana’s tendencies as she also displays signs of an obsessive character. Yet, to the contrary, she isn’t obsessed with beauty nor with science, she is simply obsessed with the love of her life, Aylmer. Hawthorne paints the picture of Georgiana as a beautiful, passionate woman with angelic like features who has been praised by many men for her attractiveness before meeting Aylmer. But when Aylmer becomes disgusted by the birthmark, all those years of compliments by others seem pointless and her husband’s disapproving opinion seems to be the most important to Georgiana. For that reason, it is apparent, that Georgiana’s opinion of her birthmark changes considerably throughout the “The Birthmark”.

When the removal of the birthmark is first brought to Georgiana’s attention by Aylmer, she responds “To tell you the truth it has been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so”. With this quote, it is shown that Georgiana is not fazed nor bothered in the least bit by her birthmark and having it removed has never been something that she has considered. But once Aylmer starts to behave in a way that shows his hatred for the birthmark through his body language and facial expressions, it also begins to sway Georgiana’s views as Aylmer’s affection is not something that she is willing to lose. Therefore, upon the realization that Aylmer’s obsession is stronger than the love that he could ever feel for her, she gives in to his madness longing for his love. Certainly, because of such a yearning that she feels, Georgiana now believes that she needs to please Aylmer even at the risk of her own death. As spoken by Georgiana she exclaims “let the attempt be made at whatever risk. Danger is nothing to me; for life, while this hateful mark makes me the object of your horror and disgust, life is a burden which I would fling down with job.” You can see her fascination with her husband, and, of course, her dedication to him with those words, as she feels if Aylmer is repulsed by the birthmark, then she would not want to live in a world where she causes his displeasure.

Moreover, her submissiveness to her husband’s demands throughout the narrative portrays a woman who has a desire to fulfill her husband’s every wish. From succumbing to Aylmer’s request without any conditions of her own to being trapped in a lab without argument and eventually drinking a potion that she knows may be detrimental, to say Georgiana was wrapped in an obsessive love for her husband would be an understatement. But possibly nothing may have been more convincing as to Georgiana’s obsession with Aylmer then her reaction to the revelations she uncovers when stumbling upon his journal. It is at this time, that Georgiana becomes aware of his failing experiments but shockingly she doesn’t degrade him nor does she point out his inaccuracies. Instead she develops a stronger love and respect for Aylmer even though she comes to doubt Aylmer’s scientific skills. You would think that with such a finding, she would have been questionable as to why he would want to perform such a dangerous task on her face when so many of his previous experiments had failed. Despite of that, however, she doesn’t question his motives and remains the trustful wife.

The theme of obsession plays well throughout this literature as it puts the emotion in the story. For Aylmer it gives an eerie feeling which helps to connect the setting of the story. It reminisces of a time when mad scientists would stop at nothing to prove their experiments a success. When looking at Georgiana’s obsession, her actions portray more of a romantic feel; the dedicated wife obsessed with pleasing her husband and shockingly shows no signs of anger toward Aylmer when she is dying although his obsession of science resulted in her demise. Needless to say, no matter if it was the love for science or the infatuation of a romance, in this story they were both "Perfectly Obsessed".

Updated: Feb 07, 2022
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Perfect Obsession in The Birthmark. (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from

Perfect Obsession in The Birthmark essay
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