The Birthmark as a Symbol Essay
The Birthmark as a Symbol
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Birthmark, the symbolism is quite evident of the birthmarks upon Georgiana’s face. It represents Aylmer’s struggles with nature and science, through his repeated attempts of the removal of it. This clash between science and nature illustrates the concept of man versus woman, through the femininity of nature and the masculine traits of the world of science.
Throughout the story, nature is portrayed as feminine and is even present through Georgiana. This is in the same way how science is show as masculine and symbolized through Aylmer. The conflicts between science and nature are symbolic of man’s need to control women. Eckstein say, “modern science is basically a masculine endeavor” (p512), as well as, “Nature is…metaphorically female” (p513). All through history, people have referred to nature with the preceding word of ‘nature’, leading one to the belief that nature is in feminine. Mary Rucker sees how Aylmer is intimidated by Georgiana, “Aylmer…fears sexuality” (p445), specifically feminine sexuality. Aylmer is concerned with controlling his wife, and her appearance. This shows the theme of men versus women.
Aylmer saw Georgiana as an object of perfection, with the exception of the birthmark. Before he met her, all of his heart went towards science, and the art of perfecting nature, “possessed this degree of faith in man’s ultimate control over nature” (p 29). This illustrates his obsession with perfecting what was already to be had. Soon after he married Georgiana, he became bothered with the mark upon her face. He allowed his fascination with science to become intertwined with his love for Georgiana, Aylmer, “elevat[ed] his wife into a scientific problem to be solved” (p366). In this way the birthmark seems to be almost mocking his attempts at changing nature, which is representative of Georgiana’ s femininity, “Attempting an operation for the removal of the Birthmark. But the deeper the knife went, the deeper sank the hand” (p 31). This represents the constant struggle for science to overcome nature, for mans need of control to be satisfied.
For men of science, nature is an enemy, just as Aylmer the birthmark becomes a rival. His hunger for perfection was so great, and it upset him that his wife was perfect in all respects except for the mark upon her cheek. The mark of imperfection nature gives us, “fatal flaw of humanity, which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her productions…to imply…their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain” ( p30). This shows how the birthmark was a way for Nature to put up a fight against science. That, perfection, is not what Nature intended, and the only way to achieve perfection was not going to be easy. Georgiana, with the birthmark, says in Nature’s defense, “It is terrible to possess such power or even to dream of possessing it” (p34). It is almost as though she is speaking for and possibly being one with Nature. She does not wish to rid herself of her imperfection. This is also one way in which her being symbolic of nature, and thus creating the suggestion that Nature is feminine. As the story continues, she is more and more swayed by Aylmer’s attempts at the removal. However, nature stands strong and the mark remains.
The struggles between science and nature go back and forth, matching each other in strength throughout the story. It begins when Aylmer (representing science) marries Georgiana (representing science), and the battle for dominance commences. As he battled with her birthmark, nature would not let it go, and the birthmark remained on her face. He was not content with the idea that he (science) could not control everything. As the last of his potions is tested upon his wife, the birthmark finally begins to fade. As Aylmer is becoming excited about his apparent success, his assistant, Aminidab (who represents Nature as well, “Vast strength, his shaggy hair, his smoky aspect, indescribable earthiness…represent [ed] man’s physical nature” (p33).) laughs.
He realizes that you can not overcome all of Nature and is mocking Aylmer this way. As the birthmark completely disappears, Georgiana dies. This shows how the birthmark representing Nature in essence wins the battle against science, “the gross fatality of earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence” (p40). Although, the science was correct, and she was rid of the mark, it mattered no longer because this perfection was no longer living. The Birthmark portrays how although man and science may always try to overcome nature and imperfections, Nature will always win out in the end.
Hawthorne’s, The Birthmark, is a perfect example of the struggle between science and Nature. It represents how man will always try to find something to fix with science, so as to overcome nature and our natural imperfections.