© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Birthmark

The Birthmark


by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Analysis: Writing Style


If you find "The Birthmark" to be slow reading, you're not alone. Hawthorne's prose can be dense, labored, and a veritable minefield of five-dollar words. Some prize-worthy sentences include:

In the latter part of the last century there lived a man of science, an eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy, who not long before our story opens had made experience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one. (1)

The higher intellect, the imagination, the spirit, and even the heart might all find their congenial aliment in pursuits which, as some of their ardent votaries believed, would ascend from one step of powerful intelligence to another, until the philosopher should lay his hand on the secret of creative force and perhaps make new worlds for himself. (1)

Some fastidious persons — but they were exclusively of her own sex — affirmed that the bloody hand, as they chose to call it, quite destroyed the effect of Georgiana's beauty, and rendered her countenance even hideous. (7)

And, of course, how could we forget:

Thus ever does the gross fatality of earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence which, in this dim sphere of half development, demands the completeness of a higher state. (91)

Much of this is due to the fact that Hawthorne is writing in the 19th century, and you're not used to the diction and formal style. Also, because the author is on his high, moralizing horse (see "Tone,") we shouldn't be surprised that he's on a lofty prose horse, too. So to speak.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...