Unattainable Beauty In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birthmark

1077 words - 4 pages

In today’s society, it seems that we cannot turn the television on or look in a
magazine without being bombarded by images of seemingly flawless, incredible looking
women. Women today are held to such unattainable standards of beauty, which leads
to self-esteem and confidence issues. These standards have caused women to
overlook the beauty that God has created in them and find their solace in science. We
have make-up to cover our faces with, Botox and collagen injections to make us look
younger and plumper in just the right places, and the ultimate “gift”: plastic surgery.
Women seem not to care what the consequences are, just as long as their goal of
perfection is achieved. But can a person ever really be physically perfect? The great
19th century writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, was writing about feminine beauty and the
lengths man will go to in order to achieve that physical perfection long before the era of
“America’s Next Top Model” and “Nip/Tuck”. Hawthorne’s classic tale “The Birth-mark”
seems to caution against “perfecting” nature’s beauty through the use of science.

“The Birthmark” introduces us to a fervent scientist, Aylmer, who marries a
beautiful young woman, Georgiana. Try as he might, Aylmer cannot keep his passions
for both his wife and his science apart for long: “His love for his wife might prove the
stronger of the two; but it could only be by intertwining itself with his love of science, and
uniting the strength of the latter to its own” (1321). In an effort to combine his two loves
in life, Aylmer finds a “flaw” upon his beautiful wife that he is sure can be removed
through the use of science. The “flaw”, which quickly becomes repulsive to Aylmer, can
be described as “…a singular mark, deeply interwoven, as it were, with the texture and

substance of her face”, “Its shape bore not a little similarity to the human hand, though
of the smallest pigmy size” (1321).

Unable to look past the slight imperfection upon his wife’s face, Aylmer projects
his disgusts upon his wife. He cannot gaze upon Georgiana and simply enjoy her
natural beauty without automatically turning to gape at the mark, which he finds to be “a
frightful object” (1322). Times that the couple should have been enjoying together turn
into awkward stares and hurt feelings. Georgiana soon “learned to shudder at his gaze”
(1322).

The birth-mark had never been a burden to Georgiana and many found her to be
quite beautiful despite it. It is said that “many a desperate swain would have risked life
for the privilege of pressing his lips to the mysterious hand” (1321). Even with the
knowledge that she is a beautiful woman, Georgiana is eventually broken down
mentally by her husband’s disgust and wants desperately for him to find her beautiful
and flawless. In an effort to conform to Aylmer’s vision of beauty, Georgiana grants him
permission to go back to his first love, science, and find a...

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