Compare the story of "The Birthmark," Nathaniel Hawthorne with Colette's "The Hand." What is the significance of the hand in each?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both stories, "The Hand" and "The Birthmark," the hand becomes a symbol of imperfection--"an odious hand" as Georgiana refers to her birthmark. This representation of imperfection on those whose spouses have otherwise found delight becomes what Hawthorne calls a "tyrannizing influence." Thus influenced, the scientist and the young wife both focus upon the hands until they find that they shudder at their appearances:  Alymer tells his lovely wife that her birthmark "shocks" him as a mark of "earthly imperfection" and when the young wife examines the hand of her husband as he sleeps, she thinks, "And I've kissed that hand! . . . How horrible ! Haven't I ever looked at it?"  

In his apprehension of Georgiana's birthmark as a "frightful object," Alymer feels that he must rid his wife of this mark. And, in his hubris as a scientist, he believes that he can remove this "symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death." Ironically, this flaw of Georgiana's is, indeed, that "fatal flaw of humanity" placed by Providence to imply that the human owner is finite. And, it is the coarse servant Aminadab who understands the necessity of this flaw, while the scientist, who can accept nothing less than perfection, is incapable of doing so. 

Unlike Alymer who demands perfection, the young wife, albeit disillusioned by her recognition of the ugliness of her husband's hand, accepts his human imperfection. For she does not shudder at his hand, but hides her fear,

beginning her life of duplicity, of resignation, and of a lowly, delicate diplomacy, she leaned over and humbly kissed the monstrous hand.

Like Aminadab, the young wife puts aside illusion and her lofty ideals of love for the realities of life.

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The Birthmark

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