Guide The Birthmark

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The narrator describes him as a natural philosopher, which was what people called scientists in the late s, when, it appears, the story is set. Although Aylmer worked in a variety of fields — geology, physiology, and physics, to name a few — he seems to have been essentially a chemist, an alchemist, to be more precise. Alchemy, the forerunner of modern chemistry, dates from ancient times. Alchemists tried to understand the composition of the material world by mixing and refining elements. According to scholars, this work led to the discovery of some useful products.

However, there was also a spiritual, philosophical, speculative side to alchemy that led practitioners to search for compounds that would achieve physical impossibilities, like turning lead into gold, and even guarantee immortality. By the late eighteenth century that strain of alchemy was no longer taken seriously, and it is that strain in which Aylmer seems to work. In this story Hawthorne marries an aging alchemist, whose best work may be behind him, to a nearly perfect young woman.

The Birthmark Summary

Nearly perfect. The opening lines of a work of fiction bear close study because often in them an author will reveal important elements like setting or theme. What does he include, and what does he leave out? Why might he make this omission? He includes the time of the story but omits the place.

Georgiana's Birthmark (Symbol)

Thus the narrator erases the wider world from the story. This helps create the closed, isolated environment in which Aylmer and Georgiana live. When is the story set? What opposition does the narrator establish in sentence 1? It refers to the world of soot, fumes, and acid in which Aylmer has lived and worked most of his life. Whenever a story focuses on newlyweds, what thematic questions immediately arise?

How will they get along? How will they adjust to each other? Will the marriage work? Sentence 2 suggests that he hopes to refine himself, to put some distance between himself and the grime and soot of his work. Sentence 1 tells us that Aylmer has established a spiritual relationship. Sentence 2 tells us what that relationship is, his marriage, which has come after a process of refinement — he left his lab, dusted off the soot, scrubbed his hands, and only then married Georgiana.

These sentences suggest what Georgiana means to him.

Georgiana's Birthmark (Symbol)

What is that meaning? She represents his connection to a more spiritual existence. An 18th Century Wedding. In sentence 4 Hawthorne explains why the love of science might rival the love of woman. State the reasons in your own words. Students will, of course, come up with various paraphrases, but essentially Hawthorne suggests that science, like love, can nourish both the mind and the heart, but it may offer something more alluring than love in the promise of acquiring the power to create new worlds.

Why is sentence 5 an odd statement for the narrator to make? Paragraphs 22 and 51, analyzed below, suggest an answer. In sentences 6 and 7 the narrator adds the final details to the stage setting before flipping the switch on the action. Although this is a time of change for Aylmer, what will not change for him?


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His devotion to science will not change. What question does the narrator raise in sentence 7? How do women interpret the birthmark and why? The narrator suggests they are motivated by jealousy. In an ironic way their claim that the mark destroys her attractiveness actually testifies to how beautiful she actually is.

Its hand-like shape suggests its grip on Georgiana. In what sentence does the narrator state his view of the birthmark? How does he interpret it? He states his view in sentence In sentence 11 the narrator tells us how some men interpreted the birthmark and suggests that Aylmer saw it the same way for a while. How would you characterize their interpretation? These men took what might be called a reasonable view of it.

The Birthmark

They did not come to obsess over it, as Aylmer eventually did. What, according to the narrator, determines how people will interpret the birthmark? That it is really a construction of his own temperament. Paragraph 8 Throughout the story thus far the narrator has noted different meanings for the birthmark.

What does he associate it with in sentence 1? Here the birthmark comes to symbolize her life. In what way can this last meaning be said to be a foreshadowing? What meaning does Aylmer finally assign to the birthmark? It suggests that Aylmer had a choice in deciding upon the meaning of the birthmark. According to the narrator, what is the origin of this meaning? If Aylmer hopes to connect with a higher level of spirituality through his marriage to Georgiana, then the birthmark, by holding Georgiana back from the highest level, also inhibits his spiritual growth.

That it stands as an obstacle to his own spiritual aspirations helps to explain his eagerness to remove it. Aylmer as Scientist: Paragraph 22 When did Aylmer make his greatest discoveries? What effect did those discoveries have on his career? How does the work we see Aylmer doing as an old man in the story reflect the work he did when young?

This latter interest, which he held even as young man, suggests the extent to which Aylmer has long desired to refine, purify, and, in effect, spiritualize, the base elements of nature. In the story he has redirected this purifying impulse away from rocks, minerals, and water to flesh, blood, and bone.

What field of study confronts Aylmer with his greatest professional setback? The study of the human body. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Jun 12, James rated it liked it Shelves: 1-fiction , 4-written-preth-century. It was not a very interesting piece. It reminded me of other war literature, which I have never been able to get into. I absolutely love that piece, but we need a diverse experience of literature with Hawthorne, so By removing the one part of the beautiful woman that was hideous, their male lovers destroyed and killed them.

In The Birthmark, I sympathized with both the husband and the wife. It is definitely a piece to make you think about how you view perfection and whether you are an optimist or pessimist. About Me For those new to me or my reviews I write A LOT. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings.

Thanks for stopping by. View all 4 comments. Oct 17, Bill Kerwin rated it it was amazing Shelves: dark-romanticism , 19th-c-amer. It is an allegory—like many of his earlier efforts—but an allegory fleshed out with new maturity, new humanity, aware of both the sensual possibilities and the tragic ironies of life.

Aylmer, both scientist and philosopher and a bit of an alchemist too marries the lovely Beatrice whose only physical flaw is a small birth-mark, on her left cheek, shaped like a little hand, faintly visible when her face glows with excitement but more prominent when great emotion makes her pale. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about this story is the way its language yokes sensuality and mortality, beauty and death together. By doing so, Hawthorne foreshadows Beatrice's fate, but he does more: he presents the reader with a fully realized tragic vision of life. Had she been less beautiful--if Envy's self could have found aught else to sneer at--he might have felt his affection heightened by the prettiness of this mimic hand, now vaguely portrayed, now lost, now stealing forth again, and glimmering to-and-fro with every pulse of emotion that throbbed within her heart.

But, seeing her otherwise so perfect, he found this one defect grow more and more intolerable, with every moment of their united lives. It was the fatal flaw of humanity, which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her productions, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain.

The Crimson Hand expressed the ineludible gripe, in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visible frames return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as the symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death, Aylmer's sombre imagination was not long in rendering the birth-mark a frightful object, causing him more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana's beauty, whether of soul or sense, had given him delight.

Feb 25, Serena rated it really liked it. This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Hawthorne stressed that no man could be without flaws and the plot itself contained several anti-science sentiments, thus categorizing The Birthmark into the Dark Romanticism genre. In many ways, the genre of the story was influenced by the time when it was written. However, as shown by the storyline, it was evident that Hawthorne strongly questioned the movement of Positivism. Symbolism played an integral part in substantiating the theme of science and nature in the story.

A feverish scientist, Aylmer symbolized science and intellect. This showed the disappearance of boundaries between science and nature, highlighting the spirituality of scientific Aylmer, which was a paradox in itself. Furthermore, there were other symbols like the laboratory and the boudoir where Georgiana resided in, which represented earthly and heavenly realms respectively. There was great contrast in the imagery of the two symbols. This revealed a spiritual realm, freed from all the humanly, earthly imperfections.

It was like heaven — a place of perfection and creation. But the laboratory reeked of his failures, not as a scientist, but as a moralistic scientist who learns to respect the boundaries between nature and science. It was apparent that the two men could not be any more different, just like the lab and the boudoir. However, they were forced to co-exist together in close proximity with an unbreakable link, just like science and nature. Moreover, it should be brought into attention that physically, the lab and the boudoir were separated by a single wall only. This emphasized the boundary between nature and science that no man could cross and hinted at the theme of the iron boundary that Nature set for science.

Apart from the above symbols, the most significant symbol of all was certainly the birthmark. The birthmark itself symbolized mortality and humanity. This echoed the theme of mortality in the story, which was linked to the theme of science and nature. It was ironic that Aylmer searched so hard for perfection when the perfect wife was before him. In other words, Georgiana could help him experience heavenly joy, yet Aylmer threw it away with his scientific pursuits and spiritual aspirations.

This brought out the theme of marriage in the story. The marriage between Aylmer and Georgiana was not an ideal one. On the other hand, Georgiana was totally dedicated to Aylmer. Her whole existence depended solely on the opinions of her husband. In the end, Georgiana got her wish but she died after achieving perfection, which was one of the morals in the story. The first message was that science was not omniscient — it had its limitations. However, Hawthorne was obviously against this notion. He had failed in the past and he had failed yet again, when the birthmark finally faded away but Georgiana died in the process.

This showed that nature was so omnipotent that it even defeated science. The ambiguous ending of the story proved the moral of the story. The conclusion was that although Aylmer was a man of science, he had the ambition to be the creator, to be God Himself, thus intruding upon the spiritual realm. This showed that he was, in certain aspects, wiser than Aylmer. Although Aminadab was of lower status than Aylmer i. Another message was that no man was perfect and flaws was what made men mortal.

This gave substance to the theme of mortality — to the fact that mortality means imperfections, and that absolute perfection can never exist on the mortal plane. The morals of the story were narrated in a moralistic, subjective tone. The narrator was omniscient and strangely though, seemed to have a character of its own. It had a strong voice and rushed to give details of every symbol. Apart from the narration, Hawthorne adopted the technique of foreshadowing to bring out the major themes of the story. In the dream, Aylmer was operating on Georgiana to cut the birthmark away.

Personally, I found the foreshadowing too excessive and it gave away the ending too much. I was a little disappointed when the ending proved to be the same as it had been foreshadowed. To him, the messages and morals of the story were far more important than the story itself. All in all, I found The Birthmark with delightful, philosophical depths and the text was well connected to the modern world. The conflict between science and nature still exist at the present.

Technology and science had advanced so much that men could even take the role of God, like determining the sex of babies and cloning people. The Birthmark was an excellent book that explored the permanent struggle between science and nature. Another gift from Aldiko. This short story once again proved my belief in Hawthorne. About the Story: Mr. Alymer is both a philosopher and a Scientist who specializes in Nature and Chemistry. He gets married to the beautiful Georgiana.

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The life is good until the day he finds that a slight mark on one of the cheeks of Georgiana is a blight to the perfect beauty she is. A small spot renders takes hold of h Another gift from Aldiko. A small spot renders takes hold of his entire being and he is tormented. In fact, that small spot was seen by many as a lucky charm that enhanced the beauty.

The Birth-Mark Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

But Alymer sought perfection. And because life was a torment for him, his wife comes forward for any experiment that would result in the removal of the birthmark. And who could be the best one for the job than Mr. Alymer himself? She submits to his experiments.

Hawthorne's The Birthmark

And did Alymer achieve what he wanted? If so, at what cost? Read the story. But it is always impossible to be both human and to be perfect. Humanness is defined by imperfections. Accept the little imperfections in others. That is the best the Nature can offer to you. To strive for perfect human being in this word is to look for 'the perfect future in the present.

Aim for it and be aware that it is not that easily attainable in this world. This short-for-school-read is no exception. Being slightly obsessed with science and 'overcoming nature' he sets out to remove it. While this raises some interesting questions, it all feels very cut-n-dry. The symbolism is flat-out explained to us, the characters nothing more than tools for the discussion and the olds-English doesn't help any. But maybe I'm just a cynic, as I said-- this does present typical Hawthorne-esque questions about perfection, sin and morality.

If you read his other works and enjoyed them, you may certainly enjoy this more than I did. Jan 28, J. Shelves: This is an excellent, fast read with an enjoyable twist. Aylmer is a scientist who decided to leave his career to marry his wife, Georgiana. After marrying, Aylmer notices a prominent birth-mark on his wife's face and begins to obsess about it.

Aylmer has a lot of selfish and superficial qualities to his character. To me, he is not a likable character. Georgiana goes along with his ideas because she loves her h The Birth Mark is a short story by 19th century American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Georgiana goes along with his ideas because she loves her husband even though the birth mark has never bothered her before. Combined, both Aylmer and Georgiana demonstrate Hawthorne's view toward marriage. I really enjoy Hawthorne's romantic style. He is one of my favorite 19th century authors. The Birth Mark in particular is an easier read at least for me than some of his other works.

The big question is: what does the birth-mark represent? To some, it might be the impossible pursuit of perfect. It could also have a Judeo-Christian undertone of the birth mark being sin. Regardless, it is a great short story. I highly recommend it to American lit fans, but it is also pretty accessible to the casual reader as well.

Nov 25, Althea Ann rated it liked it.


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Certainly none of her many beaus ever thought it detracted from her beauty. But the man she finally married not only sees it as a flaw, but becomes obsessed with this imperfection, and insists on trying medical and alchemical methods to remove it. This obsession leads to the destruction of the couple's happiness, some ethically suspect actions, and, of course, eventual tragedy. The whole pi A young woman has always thought that the small birthmark on her cheek was rather a charming feature. The whole piece is heavily allegorical and works as a metaphor for the potential that all of have to let small things bother us more than they should.

I actually thought the piece would've been stronger if the message was a little less heavy-handed, and a little less religious. Previously read Jan 01, The Dyslexic Bookworm rated it really liked it Shelves: classics , fiction , 12th-grade-reading , supernatural , short-stories-novellas. This short story made me cry.