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Through analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark", how is gender incorporated...

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kerrierg | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted November 17, 2010 at 11:53 AM via web

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Through analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark", how is gender incorporated into Georgiana's identity by the author? 

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 17, 2010 at 12:20 PM (Answer #1)

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In Hawthorne's short story "The Birthmark," the reader is presented with Georgiana, a woman with a birthmark on her cheek. Her husband becomes so obsessed with removing it, that he causes her death.

Several issues of gender are incorporated into this story.

First, the birthmark seems to have an allure for men, rather than putting them off.  Perhaps it is because men can see Georgiana's inner beauty as well as her superficial, physical beauty. Some reference that the mark may symbolize her sexuality, though it is presented as a "charm." In either case, it portrays something this woman has that seems to exert control over men (making her husband crazy).

This is a theme that also comes up in the story. Georgiana's husband, Aylmer, a scientist, believes he (and all men) should have control not only over nature, but that it is their right to dominate their wives. It is perhaps only due to his constant nagging and endless persuasion that Georgiana agrees to the "surgery," knowing that their relationship will never be right until the mark is removed and her husband can find peace—she agrees because she is a good wife, and an obedient wife, as [a male-dominated] society would expect of her.

What is frightening, and perhaps provides foreshadowing, is Aylmer's sense that he need not only remove the mark that lies upon Georgiana's skin, but that the "imperfection" can only be removed if he digs down into her heart, showing his foolish, even insane notion, that beauty—or ugliness—go far deeper than the skin, into one's very soul. This also reflects the sense that a man might believe he can play God and judge the woman, implying that he knows what lies within her heart.

As with the English Romantics and the American Transcendentalists, nature is praised in this story for its lack of artifice: for its purity. Hawthorne is trying to allow the reader to see that nothing can improve (or control) the inherent goodness in nature. Hawthorne presents Georgiana as a lovely specimen of nature's purity.

Aylmer is unable to see his wife's natural beauty or her innate goodness, and ultimately he destroys Georgiana rather than be incapable of controlling her.

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