This is an essay on symbolism in Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" that I have to do for my English class. It is due December 6 so I'm done. Thanks to Faithless Juliet for reviewing this; I kept what you wrote in mind when revising this. This is the final copy; I'll post the grade I get when I get the paper back. Come on, A!
Ok got it back; total 79/90 87. Yay B!
Literary Analysis of "The Birthmark"
Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Birthmark" shows the foolishness of endeavoring to create a perfect being, and by doing so, intruding upon the realm of the divine. Hawthorne conveys this message through the story of the scientist Aylmer and his beautiful wife, Georgiana, who has a minuscule, hand-shaped birthmark on her left cheek. Aylmer becomes obsessed with this mark that keeps his wife from being perfect, and resolves to remove the mark using his science. Throughout the telling of "The Birthmark" Hawthorne uses symbols to further illustrate the rapacity of man, and the barriers between the earthly, sinful world and heaven.
The flower that Aylmer shows Georgiana depicts the elusiveness of perfection. When Georgiana tried to pluck the flower "the whole plant suffered a blight, its leaves turning coal-black as if by the agency of fire" (Hawthorne, 308). Georgiana, a flawed individual, attempts to obtain a perfect flower, but instead causes the flower to die, for Georgiana's touch represents the imperfections inherent in all human beings. When Aylmer muttered "There was too powerful a stimulus" (308), the stimulus he mentions alludes to the flaw within Georgiana. The flower is continually dying to show that an object as perfect as the flower cannot live or suffer the touch of the imperfect.
The quick, insubstantial figures that danced before Georgiana describe how the imagination concocts fanciful goals that seem reasonable but later proves to be beyond the purview of men. These images "were perfectly represented, but with that bewitching yet indescribable difference which makes a picture, an image, or a shadow so much more attractive than the original" (308). This refers to certain goals that, like mirages, appear solid and within reach, but later proves to be illusory. Although the scientific community views Aylmer as one of the best of his field, he failed to discover how Nature created man while succeeding in other areas; the corollary that can be drawn from his failures pertain to any sublime goals in which mankind attempts to create the perfect being. Just as the figures are bodiless illusions, the goals of Aylmer and those like him are unattainable and without substance.
Hawthorne's use of mirrors to remark on the soul is present when Georgiana looks into her reflection in a polished plate of metal. Georgiana found the "features of the portrait blurred and indefinable; while the minute figure of a hand appeared where the cheek should have been" (308). The plate reflected Georgiana's birthmark, the only thing keeping her from obtaining unearthly perfection. Although Georgiana did not know the birthmark's true role as an indicator of the state of her soul, she was troubled by the hand because it confirmed the presence of a flaw within her. When the mark is removed there will be no distinguishable image in the reflection, for, having obtained perfection, she will transcend the earthly world.
The birthmark on Georgiana's cheek, the object of Aylmer and Georgiana's mutual hate, symbolizes the sins of man. Aylmer states that the birthmark was "the visible mark of earthly imperfection" (301). These sins and flaws separates mankind from the beings in heaven and can only be purged in death. Georgiana is aware that death, not Aylmer's science, will remove this birthmark from her cheek. She wishes to "put off this birthmark of mortality by relinquishing mortality itself in preference to any other mode" (314). In the end, Aylmer does accomplish his goal of creating the perfect being but at the cost of his wife's life. Georgiana obtains perfection only at the ascension of her spirit.
Hawthorne demonstrates at once both the inability of men to stay in their place in the universal hierarchy, by trespassing on the secrets of Nature and God, and the futility of such an attempt through "The Birthmark". Georgiana represents the closest state to perfection that man can aspire to but Aylmer is not content. He strives for perfection in his wife, a goal that, if successful, will result in his losing his wife, for the perfect cannot exist in the earthly world. Instead, at her death Georgiana's soul will be purged of her sins and finally allowed to achieve perfection.