by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Birthmark Theme of Mortality
"The Birthmark" has lots to say on human nature, but its most important assertion is that to be human is necessarily to be flawed. To strive for perfection is to deny one's own mortality, to deny what makes us human, and to achieve such perfection is essentially impossible. The story also examines the division between man's physical, earthly half and his lofty, spiritual half. "The Birthmark" seems to argue that part of us is necessarily earthbound, yet part of us will always seek to be immortal and spiritual.
Questions About Mortality
- Georgiana believes that Aylmer's desire to perfect her renders his love all the more lofty and noble. What the heck does she mean? Does her argument make any sense to you?
- Hawthorne explains that Aminadab represents man's earthly half, while Aylmer represents his spiritual half. Keeping with this symbolism, why is it that Aminadab, who clearly knows better when it comes to removing Georgiana's birthmark, can't confront his boss about what he knows to be a mistake?
- Hawthorne's story illustrates some clear dichotomies, including the spirit vs. the body and scientific understanding vs. the unknowable. Where does the male/female dichotomy fit in to this picture? Are certain qualities considered "male" and others "female" in this tale?
- Why isn't Georgiana angry at Aylmer when she realizes she's dying? What is her attitude toward Aylmer, and what explains this reaction?
Chew on This
Aylmer loves the idea of Georgiana, not Georgiana herself.
Aylmer genuinely loves Georgiana.