“The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “The Birthmark,” is a moral allegory that serves as a warning against using science to combat nature and the dangers of obsession. The story is focused around three characters: Aylmer, Georgiana, and Aminadab.
Aylmer is the protagonist of the story. He is a brilliant scientist whose work has made him famous in the scientific community. Hawthorne describes him as, “…An eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy…” (605).
Georgiana is his wife. She has a tiny birthmark in the shape of a handprint on her cheek. Hawthorne takes care to describe the birthmark as delicate and to emphasize its beauty (606). Georgiana is a passionate and intelligent woman and she displays a strong allegiance to her husband. She is willing to bend to his will even when she suspects that his methods will eventually kill her. But it is important to say that she is not weak. When her husband scolds her for entering his laboratory, she refuses to apologize and admonishes him for hiding the dangers of his experimentation from her.
Aminadab is Aylmer’s assistant. He fits the stereotypical description of a laboratory assistant: “… a man of low stature, but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage, which was grimed with the vapors of the furnace.” (609). He has worked for Aylmer throughout his entire scientific career. Aminadab also displays a devotion to Aylmer and a willingness to follow his Master’s direction even when it goes against his better judgment.
While Hawthorne does not tell the reader the exact date when The Birthmark takes place, he does take care to describe how there were many key scientific discoveries, such as electricity, being made at that time. This is important because it gives the reader context for the atmosphere surrounding science at that time. It is fairly safe to assume that it takes place during the early 19th...