The Birthmark Essay

881 words - 4 pages

The Unattainability of Perfection: A Critical Analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”
Perfection is one of the most sought-after qualities in society. People are willing to shell out large sums of money for dieting plans, training regimens, and plastic surgery – all in an attempt to be perfect, whether that means having a slim waist, a defined core, or a more attractive nose. However, nobody is flawless. Even if an individual alters their physical appearance to what they believe to be “perfect,” they will nonetheless have other, non-physical faults that will limit their ability to attain perfection. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a 19th century American writer, expressed his feelings about ...view middle of the document...

Although Georgiana is otherwise a beautiful woman, her birthmark keeps her from being flawless. Hawthorne promotes the unrealistic nature of perfection in that, even though many may be relatively close to achieving perfection, there will always be one small factor that stands in the way – in Georgiana’s case, it is her birthmark.
Moreover, Hawthorne’s characterization of Georgiana’s physical attributes, most notably her birthmark, accentuates the unlikelihood of achieving perfection. Specifically, “in the centre of Georgiana’s left cheek there was a singular mark […] [that] wore a tint of deeper crimson, which imperfectly defined its shape amid the surrounding rosiness” (13). It is interesting to note that, although Georgiana is labeled a gorgeous woman, the only aspect of her physical appearance that Hawthorne describes in detail is that of her birthmark – the symbol of imperfection. Hawthorne does this intentionally to fully emphasize the notion that perfection is unattainable and that it is wrong for people, such as Aylmer, to believe otherwise. Furthermore, Aylmer deems his wife’s birthmark as having “an almost fearful distinctness […] [whose] shape bore not a little similarity to the human hand” (13). From this, a connection is made between the birthmark and mortality, in that Georgiana’s birthmark is depicted as being in the shape of a human hand and not, for example, the hand belonging to G-d. This serves as a reminder that Georgiana is human and that, so long as that is the case, it is unfeasible to achieve perfection of any kind.
Similarly, Hawthorne evokes the unlikelihood of attaining perfection by foreshadowing Georgiana’s death. For instance, Aylmer dreams of “attempting an operation for the removal of the birthmark, […] [whose] tiny grasp appeared to have caught hold of Georgiana’s heart […]; [Aylmer] was […] resolved to cut […] it away” (15). Even in...

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