The Idea of Removing the Flaw on the Cheek of Georgiana in the Short Story, The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne

How Deep Does the Rabbit Hole Go?

Nathaniel Hawthorne in his story “The Birthmark” tells of an encounter between a man, Aylmer, and his wife, Georgiana, and her apparent “flaw”, a birthmark on her cheek. But is this story an indicator of how science operates, or is it an indicator of how society as a whole operates? In the current world filled with products that cause more harm than good (e.g.

cigarettes, alcohol, weaponry, etc.) many would agree it’s the latter.

Aylmer is obsessed with the idea of removing his wife’s “flaw” but cares very little about the possible complications or the result of the removal. This is similar to how human society develops new products, experiments, and ideas. We make products that consistently need to be recalled due to some dangerous trait, such as mcdonalds toys being a choking hazard for small children (CPSC). We see companies investing millions of dollars in order to fix flaws that may not be harmful and typically trying to fix the problem results in a much worse problem.

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In Hawthorne’s short story it resulted tragically in the death of Georgiana.

Many would read this short story as a commentary on the way science operates but Aylmer doesn’t need to be a scientist to tell the same story. The story follows a typical “tragedy” of having something almost perfect-Ignore the idea that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and attempt to “fix it”- and have it fail completely.

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Understanding where to draw the line is an important thing to take away from this story. Good enough is exactly that, good enough. And Hawthorne wants us as the readers to understand the consequences if you don’t learn how to draw that line.

Hawthorne is trying to state that many things that we do, we do for the sake of doing same fashion. He finds a “flaw” and works to fix the flaw without caring why he is “fixing” it. Had he spent time to understand that this “flaw” doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things we would have no reason to even recount this story. A great comparison to this obsession without care about consequences would be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The obsession with creating life by harnessing the power of lightning is the birthmark and the murder of his family by the creature is this stories death of Georgiana. (Shelley) Aylmer cares very little about the difficulties of trying to fix the birthmark and assumes he is perfectly capable of fixing it but “Aylmer had long laid aside in unwilling recognition of the truth… our great creative Mother… permits us, indeed, to mar, but seldom to mend” (1026). He cares very little that he has many failed attempts and is still confident that he can fix this “problem”. This level of arrogance correlates well with how science and related fields operate.

We look to our scientists for answers to questions and they reply with confidence that all answers can be found eventually. The better question is, do we need the answer to everything or are some things better left unknown? Human curiosity has gotten us into pretty bad trouble throughout history. Teenage pregnancy, drug use, and crime are all examples of things that start off as a curiosity and ruin your life. Some things are better left unknown.

Arrogance is an important theme as well during this short story. Aylmer considers himself a successful scientist but almost all of his experiments fail. “Much as he had accomplished, she could not but observe that his most splendid successes were almost invariably failures, if compared with the ideal at which he aimed.”(1030). It’s important to the story to know of these failures because it’s what really prove the extent of Aylmer’s arrogance. It’s common to find arrogance in people who are obsessed. One doesn’t become obsessed if they understand their limitations. A man who knows he knows little about the physics of flight isn’t going to spend his entire lifetime working on a personal spaceship. It’s those who are arrogant enough to think they can achieve anything they want that fall into obsession.

To contrast this idea of obsession, Hawthorne gives us the character Aminadab. He is the “voice of reason” in this story and questions Aylmer’s actions. He is the naturalist of the story who doesn’t think Georgiana should allow Aylmer to perform the experiment. “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark” (1026).

Hawthorne wrote the birthmark at an interesting time in his life. The story was written in 1843, merely months after marrying Sophia Peabody. The beginnings of marriage are notorious for finding flaws in your partner and learning how to compromise and he most likely wrote this short story to show what would happen if you don’t look past a couple of flaws. Obsession and love typically go hand in hand and, no doubt, his obsession with his new wife inspired him to write this story.


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The Idea of Removing the Flaw on the Cheek of Georgiana in the Short Story, The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2022, Mar 31). Retrieved from

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