by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Birthmark Theme of Man and the Natural World
"The Birthmark" is interested in Nature as the personified creator of all things. It tells the story of a man who challenges Nature in trying to become a creator of sorts himself, in trying to "repair" a "flaw" that Nature has left on another human being. One of the many morals of the story is that Nature, like a "jealous patentee," carefully guards her secrets and can't be beaten or even matched by man. Part of the problem with the unbounded scientific urge, Hawthorne argues, is that it ignores the natural boundaries Nature sets for man's accomplishments.
Questions About Man and the Natural World
- Why is the word "Nature" capitalized throughout "The Birthmark"?
- When she's waiting for her husband to prepare the elixir for her to drink, Georgiana feels "a sensation in the fatal birthmark, not painful, but which induce[s] a restlessness throughout her system" (57). What do you think is going on here? What would possible make Georgiana feel this way, and what does it mean in the context of Hawthorne's heavy symbolism?
- Why is the birthmark red?
- Sure, she dies right afterwards, but the fact remains that Aylmer does indeed succeed in removing the birthmark from Georgiana's cheek. What does this say about man's ability to conquer nature?
Chew on This
Aylmer only wants to remove the birthmark from Georgiana's cheek for the scientific thrill. It's about his own ego, not about her.
Through his physical descriptions of setting, Hawthorne suggests that much of science is deceptive to its spectators.