“The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne tells the story of a couple who are torn apart by a physical flaw on Georgiana, the wife’s cheek. The main character, Aylmer, works desperately in his laboratory in hopes of finding a cure. His plan goes awry when the potion ends his wife’s life. The reader can see the elements of fiction come alive in this story, from the setting and point of view to the diverse characters and theme.
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The setting of this story is not as unique as a café in Paris or the Colosseum in Rome. It is set in a house and partly in a laboratory and a small alcove. The laboratory is described of having a furnace, a threshold, and an inner apartment where Aylmer’s underworker Aminadab lived. Georgiana finds herself in the alcove when she wakes from her faint. “The walls were hung with gorgeous curtains,” which Georgiana thought looked like “a pavilion among the clouds”(Hawthorne 125). The setting helps with the mood of the story and gives the reader a better emotional connection with the story.
Aylmer is the main character of this short story, but there is never a set point of view. The reader can read both Aylmer and Georgiana’s thoughts. Georgiana’s thoughts are usually seen when she is alone, and when they are together, Aylmer seems to be the main point of view. Aminadab’s thoughts are never known in the story other than when he speaks to reprimand Aylmer for trying so hard to get rid of one small imperfection in his wife, even though she was practically perfect.
In this particular short story, there are three characters: Aylmer, Georgiana, and Aminadab. Aylmer is described as a “man of science” (Hawthorne 119) who loved his laboratory. The story says that he was often seen with soot from the furnace and acid covering his face and fingers. When he was clean, though, it says he had a fine countenance. Throughout the entirety of the story, he is intent on finding the potion that would cure his wife of the horrible birthmark. Georgiana is described as very beautiful, the image of perfection, withstanding the crimson birthmark that resided on her cheek in the shape of a small hand (Hawthorne 120). She agrees to trying the potion because she can see how much it repulses her husband. Georgiana seems to be a sweet and caring soul, who would do anything to make her husband happy. Aminadab is Aylmer’s lab assistant who is described as “a man of low stature, but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage, which was grimed with the vapors of the furnace”(Hawthorne 124). He is not pleased at all with Aylmer’s obsession with removing the birthmark, as the reader can see. Towards the end of the short story, Aminadab is seen to laugh before and after Georgiana says she is dying, so it is unclear as to whether he altered the potion at all. These diverse characters are what make the story unique and interesting.
It could be said that there is more than one theme in this deep story, but the one that will probably stand out to the reader is the foolishness of striving for perfection. Hawthorne implies that perfection can only be found in the province of heaven, not on the earth. Because of this, Aylmer’s obsession with ridding his wife of the one tiny imperfection that she has is doomed to fail. That small flaw soon becomes all that Aylmer can see, and the sight of Georgiana repulses him, though she is said to be quite lovely in appearance. Past lovers in her life even said the birthmark enhanced her beauty. When someone focuses on the flaws of others, it becomes hard for them to see the good in them.
The descriptive settings, point of views, and lifelike characters bring this story to life, and any reader will be able to take away something from the meaningful and deep messages found in this short story. These elements of fiction writing are what make the readers empathize and improve themselves through the novels, story, and graphic fiction they might read in everyday life.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birthmark.” Norton Custom Library. 2nd ed. Ed. Katie Hannah. New York, 2010. 119-34.
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