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Passages Relating to Alienation in "The Birth-mark"

Passages Relating to Alienation in "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)
  • Despite the appearance of modesty in Aylmer's claim that it would be disruptive to nature to create what he is sure he can produce, the very claim itself exemplifies his intellectual pride, a pride that shines through the remainder of the passage, and the story as a whole.

  • Aylmer's prophetic dream illustrates that he is more inclined to cherish his intellectual pursuits than the life of his spouse. The fact that he dreams a dark future for himself yet pursues it, underscores the chilliness of his own heart.

  • This passage illustrates the temptations to which intellectuals are susceptible and to which Aylmer yielded even before meeting Georgiana. Like Roger Chillingworth of The Scarlet Letter, Aylmer enters marriage with a heart already so pledged to science that there remained little room for regular human affections.

  • At the end, Georgiana dies; Aminadab, representative of all that's gross and tainted, laughs in triumph; and Hawthorne-and Georgiana-offer judgments of Aylmer's folly. Aylmer failed to appreciate that "the best the earth could offer," is necessarily tainted with mortality, but that, as the ending of the tale suggests, it may be possible to find the "perfect Future in the present" by abandoning a pursuit of the ideal, noble as that pursuit might be. One thinks, at this point of Owen Warland, the artist from "The Artist of the Beautiful" and the "far other butterfly" he finds that, in the end, brings him a kind of peace.

  • As this passage makes clear, the birthmark on Georgiana's cheek "expressed the ineludible gripe, in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould." Aylmer's ambition, then, is nothing short of immortality for Georgiana and his distaste for the birthmark can be understood as antipathy for her very mortality, the quality that, ironically, makes her worth saving. To bring Georgiana to perfection is to bring her to stasis, or death.

  • In his explanation to Georgiana of his ironically named poison, "the Elixir of Immortality," Aylmer's pride powerfully shows itself. The attitude he expresses is one demonstrative of the distance he feels from the commonality of mankind.

  • In expressing utter confidence in his scientific skill, Aylmer not only misleads Georgiana, but also places himself proudly above Nature, purporting to repair what is imperfect in Nature's "fairest work." In comparing himself to Pygmalion he suggests that for him Georgiana is more object than companion and reminds the reader that where the myth moves from death to life, this tale moves in the opposite direction.

  • In what may be Aylmer's most discouraging moment, we see him almost coolly observing Georgiana as her body struggles with the concoction he has prepared for her. His affection and concern for her, it appears, are overridden by his pursuit of knowledge. Georgiana's last episode becomes another entry in his chronicle of experiments.

  • That Georgiana is no mere victim is made clear in this disturbing passage. She appears almost eager to sacrifice herself on the altar of her husband's idealism, an impulse matching her husband's pride and consistent with the characterization of herself she offers at her death as "the best the earth could offer."

    Full text of "The Birth-mark"

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