The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne
In Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Birthmark," there are many views on the need for science and its advances. Hawthorne's protagonist, Aylmer, illustrates his own personal assessment of science. The story is based on the idea that science can solve all of humanities ills and problems. Hawthorne believes that science is overrunning life. Aylmer is consumed by his passion of overtake Mother Nature. The story shows how Aylmer's passion leads to not only his downfall but that of his wife Georgiana as well. The belief that science can solve and do anything is one of ignorance because it totally disregards the human element of spirituality.
The idea of hubris, which is a Greek word meaning excessive pride of a mortal who believes they are on the level of the gods, is very apparent in the story. In Ancient Greek myths, the gods usually punished those who acted with hubris. Aylmer, himself, believes that he is on the level of the gods. This is shown in the passage "Aylmer possessed this degree of faith in man's ultimate control over Nature" (44). Aylmer's arrogant belief that he can triumph over Nature can be found when he and Georgiana, are talking about the removal of the birthmark: " 'what will be my triumph when I shall have corrected what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work' " (47). Near the end Aylmer is so sure that he has beaten Nature that he mocks it: " 'Ah clod! ah, earthly mass' " (55). This shows Aylmer's arrogance because it shows that he believes that he is The Creator. Aylmer's delusions of grandeur are crushed at the end when Georgiana dies. He is, so to speak, struck down by the gods.
In the pursuit of scientific discovery, Hawthorne raises the question of when is enough, enough? Where should the proverbial line be drawn? Aylmer is always striving for absolute control over the Natural World. Hawthorne develops the character of Aminadab to serve this purpose. Aminadab is the perfect contrast to Aylmer. Aminadab "seemed to represent man's physical nature; while Aylmer's slender figure, and pale, intellectual face, were no less apt a spiritual element" (48). Aminadab realizes that Georgiana is indeed perfect the way she is, and should not be tampered with. This is shown in a quote from Aminadab, " 'if she were my wife, I'd never part with that birthmark' " (48). He realizes science cannot overtake Mother Nature. Aylmer's view towards it is one of disgust. He thinks "it will be such a rapture to remove it" (48). This shows the contrast of the men, Aminadab and Aylmer. When Aminadab chuckles the "hoarse, chuckling laugh," (55) at the end of the story, it really drives Hawthorne's point home. That is, it is laughable to believe that science can solve all of life's mysteries.