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The Birthmark

The Birthmark


by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Birthmark Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. Who or what is the real protagonist of "The Birthmark"? Who is the real villain?
  2. Our favorite Hawthorne-y question: what's the moral of the story?
  3. Identify instances of foreshadowing in "The Birthmark." What purpose do these passages serve in terms of plot and in terms of theme (particularly the whole "man is foolish" theme)?
  4. The narrator shows us a conversation between Georgiana and Aylmer in which they discuss her birthmark before he stops to explain to us that Georgiana has a birthmark. What's the deal with this narrative decision? Is this out of order? Is it intentionally so? What effect does it have on the way we process the information?
  5. Why does the narrative cut off before we get to see Aylmer's reaction to his wife's death?
  6. A Super-Duper Doozy of a Question, Not For the Faint of Heart: First, check out our "In a Nutshell" discussion of Positivism. Next, consider the way we are given information in "The Birthmark," the narrator's omniscience (or lack thereof at key moments), and what parts of the story we are missing (see the previous two questions in particular). How does Hawthorne's narrative technique in itself comment on Positivism? Does it reject or support the scientific method that Positivism holds up as ideal?
  7. Read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Oval Portrait" and compare the themes, tone, and lessons learned to those in "The Birthmark." Check out Shmoop's discussion of "Genre" and think about how each of these tales fits into the "Dark Romanticism" genre.

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