Allegory is common in Hawthorne’s writing and his use of symbolism. His use of symbols not only forces the reader to dig deeper but it also causes readers to interpret his stories differently from one another. The different uses of symbolism in the story aid the reader in using the subtext to derive more meaning and further try to understand what exactly Hawthorne was trying to express in his writing. Much of what can be read in The Birthmark pertains deeper allegorical meanings than what the reader may read originally. The birthmark on Georgiana’s face is a symbol of mortality and represents man’s imperfections, the very imperfections that make her human.
The main character in this story is Aylmar, he is described in the beginning of the story as a man of science, an eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy (Hawthorne 319). He also has a love of nature, a love for nature that may go too deep and affects the marriage he is in with Georgiana. Georgiana is Aylmar’s wife who is described as a woman of beauty with one imperfection. Little does the reader know that this imperfection would be the demise of Georgiana. This one imperfection is Georgiana’s small, red, hand-shaped birthmark that lay upon her left cheek. This birthmark symbolizes mortality. Without the birthmark she is otherwise perfect, it’s simply a blemish that marks her as mortal.
The birthmark on Georgiana’s face is described as being shaped like a small hand. The shape of it plays a role in symbolism as well. The shape might symbolize the hand of God. It’s as though God himself laid his hand upon her personally while crafting her into perfection. Hawthorne is specific in mentioning that it’s the shape of a human hand, which then complicates the idea of it being the hand of God, further symbolizing that the birthmark on Georgiana’s cheek is a mark of her humanity and mortality.
Aylmer is repulsed by his wife’s blemish and asks his wife has it never occurred to you that the mark on your cheek might be removed? (Hawthorne 319). Taken aback by such a statement from her husband of whom she thought loved her unconditionally, she fires back, deeply hurt by his remarks and begins crying. Aylmer’s feelings towards her birthmark symbolize the misinterpretation of the symbol on his wife’s face. It leads him astray and suggests that he feels horrors towards the prospects of death and mortality. Although he is a smart man, he mistakenly comes to believe that if he were to remove the imperfection from his otherwise perfect wife’s face, he might be able to prolong her life, and make her perfect. He tells his wife you came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly perfection.” (Hawthorne 319). On a literal level Aylmer wants to rid his wife of what he see’s as unattractive but on a symbolic level he wants to rid his wife of her flaws.
Aylmer begins experimenting in his lab with his assistant Aminadab. Aminadab is a willing assistant but in the story it is clear that he is disgusted with the way Aylmer is treating his wife and disagrees with his desire to remove the birthmark when he states under his breath, If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark. (Hawthorne 322). Aminadab seems to feel more compassion towards Georgiana than her own husband does and he understands that imperfections aren’t always what make someone unattractive. Although Aminadab feels this way about Aylmer, he helps him further. Aylmer begins developing a potion that hopefully will be capable of removing physical flaws, such as freckles and other blemishes. Georgiana wants her husband to succeed because she wants to please him. She worships him and succumbs to his unreasonable demands despite her suspicions that they might kill her. He formulates and practices. He has a couple failed attempts and then eventually is successful in making the special potion.
With this potion Aylmer both succeeds and fails. He is finally able to rid his wife of what he sees as an imperfection. Aylmer gives Georgiana the potion to drink, she drinks its, willingly. As she’s drinking it she’s imagining it as water from a heavenly fountain but then immediately begins getting tired. She tells her husband to let her sleep. Aylmer notices the birthmark slowly start to fade. He exclaims I can scarcely trace it now. Success! Success! (Hawthorne 328). The birthmark, which was once deep crimson, was now blush pink, the deep red color was fading and so was Georgiana’s life. Aylmers excitement woke his wife from her slumber, she noticed how her birthmark has almost vanished but quickly interrupted her husbands cheers with sadness. She was dying. As Georgiana took her last breath her birthmark completely faded from her face. The birthmark represented her soul. As her soul faded so did the blemish. Her husband sat with her as she passed, gazing upon this now perfect woman who now was beginning her journey into heavenward flight. It wasn’t until this moment that Aylmer realized he had a perfect woman all along.
The fatal hand had grappled with the mystery of life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in union with a mortal frame. (Hawthorne 328). The hand on her cheek represented her life, her soul and her mortality. The hand on her face was her life and soul holding on to her. It was her frame of life. It connected her soul and her body. Although his intentions are good, Aylmer is a selfish and unkind man whose decisions ultimately killed his perfectly imperfect wife.
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