Theme Behind Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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Theme plays an important role when building any type of story. Themes help to express or build your imagination and are the main reason the author is writing the story. In Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” the author displays a variety of themes. However, while reading this short story the two themes that were predominate throughout the story would be obsession and mans attempt to conquer nature through methods of science no matter what the consequences may be.

Hawthorne builds a story where we once thought love could overcome all evil actually can be overrun by obsession and the strong desire for perfection.

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You have Aylmer a very smart, successful scientist who marries a beautiful woman Georgiana. Although beautiful, there is a dominate mark marring Aylmer’s perfect wife. This marking is described as a small red hand print in the middle of Georgiana’s cheek. Some might view this as a symbol of human inevitability and shows how human nature is not always perfect. In Aylmer’s eyes it became a disgusting intruder on his beloved’s beauty. As if looking upon it mocked him and his ability to defeat nature. Illuminating a sense of being human and mortality when Aylmer is on the constant pursuit to achieve eternal perfection

‘dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the visible’ (Hawthorne)

Others might of viewed this as an added touch of beauty to one who is already stunning or a characteristic that makes beauty flawless. To Aylmer, this was just lies to excuse the curse nature bestowed on his wife’s burdens of sadness, sin, deterioration and fatality.

With science being Aylmer’s core of existence you can see how the love he may once have had for Georgiana faded and instead of being his wife she became his experiment. Isolating her by replacing sunlight and replacing it with lamps casting flames in various colors and perfume. Aylmer in a sense removed as much of the natural world molding it into his own ideal of reality. Hawthorne continues to display Aylmer’s love of his wife being taken over by his love of science because spending time with Georgiana only occurs when it pertains to studying and researching her and the birthmark in his laboratory. However, even during this time spent with her in his laboratory he would still abandon her for hours to work with his assistant about his findings.

Poor Georgiana once confident in her beauty starts to wonder if indeed she is flawed. Aylmer is persuasive in his words and boasts of his legendary skills causing Georgiana to break down and give in to Aylmer’s obsession to remove the mark even if the end result would be death. While Aylmer may have been obsessed with the removal of the mark and love of science, Georgiana’s was more of love and wanting to be the dutiful wife who pleases her husband. In the end, Aylmer achieves his goal by eliminating the birthmark but he also lost the love of a beautiful woman all because of his obsession to show that science was more powerful than nature.


Hawthorne . “The Birth-Mark – Nathaniel Hawthorne.” Feedbooks, 1843, 

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Theme Behind Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”. (2021, Mar 27). Retrieved from