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Learning Activities Related to The Birth-mark

Learning Activities Related to "The Birth-mark"

Portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Charles Osgood, 1840
Portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Charles Osgood, 1840 (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA, Gift of Professor Richard C. Manning, Acc#121459)

1. Both Owen Warland in "The Artist of the Beautiful" and Aylmer in "The Birth-mark" strive to achieve something fine and ideal and in both stories they achieve their goals. What price do they pay for their achievements? What are the effects of their ambitions on their relationships with others? What are their differences between the two characters and what do those differences show us?


2. In the myth, Pygmalion, a sculptor convinced of the faultiness of women, resolves to remain unmarried. Nevertheless, he falls in love with one of his own creations: a beautiful marble statue of a young maiden and prays to the gods that they send him a woman just like her to be his bride. Listening to his prayers, Venus, brings Pygmalion's statue to life and when he returns to his home, he is delighted to find that the marble figure as become a real woman. Venus blesses the wedding between the two.

Hawthorne makes direct allusions to the Pygmalion myth in both "Drowne's Wooden Image" and in "The Birth-mark." How do Drowne and Aylmer act as latter day Pygmalions? How do their stories differ from the original and from each other and, most important, what can we learn from these difference?


3. This learning activity is the activity submitted by Donna Reiss, Professor of English at Tidewater Community College, Virginia Beach, VA for "Rappaccini's Daughter" but edited for a focus on "The Birth-mark" which she also addresses in that activity.

Two of Nathaniel Hawthorne's best-known short stories are excellent companions to a reading of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: "The Birthmark" and "Rappaccini's Daughter." Like Frankenstein, they dramatize the impact of science and technology on human behavior and relationships. Although set in the nineteenth century, these works provoke our thinking about similar issues in the current century and help set the stage for an exploration of these issues throughout the twentieth century. This Explore activity is relevant for both "Rappaccini's Daughter" and "The Birth-mark."

As you read "The Birth-mark," consider the list of ideas and topics below that are also related to Frankenstein. I recommend that you review the Frankenstein Project Guidelines for suggestions such as the following:

  1. Ethics and science (responsibility of scientists)
  2. Relationship between creator/inventor and creations/inventions
  3. Educational approaches and curricula
  4. Relationships among families and friends
  5. Impact of obsessions on self and others

Many scholarly resources are available for research into Hawthorne, including the literary and historical resources available through TCC Libraries and Online Resources.

The Literature section of the Hawthorne in Salem Website has several topics that you can relate to your reading of "The Birth-mark." Even when the sources do not refer specifically to that story, sometimes the authors of the online articles discuss other Hawthorne works in ways that you can recognize as similar to "The Birth-mark." In particular, the sections titled "Women in Hawthorne" and "Alienation" might be of interest.

In addition, the Explore section links to some graphical and resources and other commentary that might interest you. Ideas of good and evil, for example, are emphasized in the Faith and Religion section.

Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/12035/

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