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Obsession In "The Birth Mark" And "Ligeia"

759 words - 4 pages

“The Birth-mark” and “Ligeia” both reveal the destructive effects of obsession with perfection on the principal male and female characters. “The Birth-mark” is a story about a young woman, Georgiana, whose husband convinces her that the removal of her birthmark will make her perfect and pure. “Ligeia” is a story about another young woman, Rowena, who is driven to sickness and death because of her husband’s obsession with his former “perfect” wife and her inability to measure up. These separate husbands inadvertently kill their wives through their obsessions.
Hawthorne’s story describes the harmful effects of Aylmer’s obsession with the almost-perfection of his wife. Aylmer initially did not seem to notice or care about the small birthmark on Georgiana’s cheek. But soon after they marry, the birthmark haunts him, until he no longer cares about anything else. Alymer is not content with simply having his wife the way she is; she must be perfect. He relates this imperfection to sin; “it was the fatal flaw of humanity… the symbol of his wife’s liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death” (Hawthorne, 633). Aylmer believes that if he can remove this imperfection, Georgiana will be a perfect, sinless human being. He thus begins experiments to eliminate the mark from his wife’s cheek. In light of the compliments of past suitors, Georgiana believes the birthmark is charming. However, she grows to hate it because her husband’s obvious revulsion for it, until she prefers death to its existence.
Poe’s story describes the harmful effects of the narrator’s obsession with the perfection of his deceased wife. The narrator is convinced that his first wife, Ligeia, was perfect. He worshiped her, seeing her as a source of true wisdom. Her eventual death completely devastates him. He reluctantly takes another wife, Rowena, the complete opposite of Ligeia in both looks and personality. The narrator is disgusted with Rowena, finding her lacking in every way when compared with Ligeia. His continuous meditations on Ligeia and his opium addiction cause his obsession with his death wife to grow. Consequently, the narrator’s feelings for Rowena develop into “a hatred belonging more to demon than to man” (Poe, 685). His thoughts continually go “back to Ligeia, the...

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