Romanticism and Gothic traits in The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“The Birthmark,” Romanticism and Gothic Literature

"The Birthmark is a story which has the basics of a Gothic story which was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and represents a Romantic view of life. In order to catch those from the story, first the knowledge of Romanticism and Gothic literature is needed. Romanticism was a revolt against Classicism and Neoclassicism which were the eras before it. Romanticism always wanted the individual's story, chaotic scenes and Nature's power. It never dealt with the balanced, the perfect and the universal like Classicism and Neoclassicism did.

To Romantics, there was never perfect. Gothicism strives to create an unforgettable impression with fear and gore and blood. In "The Birthmark”, there is also an imperfection and that imperfection gave the story its name. The birthmark on Georgiana's cheek is, to Romantics, a beautiful mark that is given to her from fairies, a mark that symbolizes her humanity. However, there is another view on that birthmark, a Neoclassicist's view.

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To Georgiana's husband, who represents the Neoclassical perspective, the birthmark is a fatal flaw. Therefore, it can never be on his wife's cheek because she should be perfect. Those two different views on the birthmark make the conflict, because Georgiana loves her birthmark, at least at the beginning. When the conflict starts, the ending is already visible that it will not be a beneficial one to neither Aylmer nor Georgiana, since, to a Romantic, you can never mess with the Nature; it will always be greater and more powerful than you.

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The birthmark on Georgiana's cheek is the key to her life, and it is foreshadowed that she would die if something happened to the birthmark. For example, Aylmer dreams about the birthmark, dreams that he's cutting it, but the roots were too deep in his dream, they went to her heart, and Aylmer thinks about cutting off the heart without thinking on it. The flower that Georgiana touches immediately turns to black. According to those, the ending should not be a surprise because perfection does not exist.

The narration is a big part of “The Birthmark” and is filled with emotions, just how it is supposed to be in a Romantic story. The narrator sympathizes with Georgiana and likes the birthmark. In the story, the narrator says that when the new married couple should be in their merriest moments, Aylmer always saw the birthmark but nothing else which has resulted pain and stress. The narrator never supported Aylmer or his thoughts, and it is often shown that Aylmer is worse as a human being even compared with an animal-like person, Aminadab, by the narrator. The narrator is a Romantic for sure because he thinks Nature is greater than science. He is right because science couldn't overcome the Nature at the end of the story. Aylmer is basically trying to create a perfect woman, but God created her as the narrator suggests. Therefore, Aylmer is trying to be God or trying to be better than God, which is impossible. A Romantic or a Gothic would never accept that because they think that they are tiny in this big world and they need to respect the Nature. As the story is told in this sense, the Gothic elements start to show up. Demonstrating the Gothic convention of the damsel in distress, Georgiana faints when she first sees the laboratory. The image of a scientist, Aylmer is never liked in the story and he is thought to be crazy by the narrator, and at first by Georgiana. In Georgiana's early life her birthmark was considered a beauty mark or a hand of a fairy by his former lovers, but Aylmer's opinion on the birthmark is very methods of removing it. Lastly, the death of Georgiana is portrayed by the author because nothing can live without imperfection.

The story is, overall, a simple, classic Romantic story which puts the individual, Georgiana, in the middle and the Nature is to be respected or the consequences will be disastrous. The scientist is never liked because the era before Romanticism, Neoclassicism, adored science, and everything that science adored like perfection or balance, and Romanticism is a revolt to those eras. Gothic part of it is the part when fear and death come in. This story is a perfect example of both the Romantic and the Gothic literature that perfectly, maybe not so perfectly because nothing is perfect, merged together.


Updated: May 03, 2023
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Romanticism and Gothic traits in The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2022, Mar 31). Retrieved from

Romanticism and Gothic traits in The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne essay
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