Foolishness and Folly Theme
"The Birthmark" fits into Hawthorne's body of work in the Dark Romanticism genre, which means it holds up to scrutiny the flaws of mankind. In this case, the main character Aylmer suffers from over-ambition and blind obsession. He seeks to remove his wife's birthmark – the symbol of necessarily flawed humanity – and make her perfect. In his single-minded pursuit of this ideal, Aylmer ignores all the warning signs urging him to stop. Through his story, Hawthorne illustrates the flaws of mankind and the consequences that come with foolish obsession.
Questions About Foolishness and Folly
- Hawthorne's story argues that man is necessarily flawed and can't be expected to be perfect. Does this justify Aylmer's own short-comings, or should we feel fine about condemning him as a fool at the end of the day? Why does Hawthorne feel justified in condemning Aylmer as he does? (Or does he…?)
- Does Aylmer learn his lesson at the end of the story? Can we answer this question for sure one way or the other? Why or why not?
- Aylmer seems only able to love Georgiana if he can perfect her. What does Hawthorne say about the human capacity to love? Is Aylmer meant to typify the norm, or the unfortunate exception?
- What is going on with Aminadab's laughter at the end of the story? How does Aylmer interpret the laughter the first time he hears it? Is he correct? In what spirit is his laugher intended? Does the laughter take on a different meaning for the reader the second time we hear it?
Chew on This
Aylmer subconsciously knows his wife will die if he tries to remove the birthmark; but he chooses not to face this reality.