We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Birthmark

The Birthmark


by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Tools of Characterization

Character Analysis


The big name that everyone likes to talk about in "The Birthmark" is that of Aminadab. In the Book of Genesis in the Bible, Aminadab is a high priest. In "The Birthmark," he is Aylmer's rather coarse, brutish assistant. What happened? One argument is that Hawthorne is making a point about the state of religion in a world of science. Back in the [Biblical] day, religion ruled the world. Aminadab was a high priest and a leader. But in Hawthorne's story, science rules the day. Not only is religion on the outs, but it's somehow made into the servant of science.

What complicates this matter particularly is that Aminadab is described as the earthy brute of physicality, while Aylmer is the lofty, spiritual man. If Aminadab is the religious one, shouldn't he be the spiritual guy? Check out "Characters" if this question bothers you as much as it does us.

Direct Characterization

Because Hawthorne is out to make a point, subtlety isn't exactly his strong suit. Take a look at a point where his point is particularly pointy:

With his vast strength, his shaggy hair, his smoky aspect, and the indescribable earthiness that incrusted him, [Aminadab] seemed to represent man's physical nature; while Aylmer's slender figure, and pale, intellectual face, were no less apt a type of the spiritual element. (26)

On the subtly scale, this is right on par with Hawthorne's explanation that, for Aylmer, the birthmark is "the symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death" (8).