The major concepts or themes in "The Birthmark " which I would identify as typical of its period are 1) man's striving for the impossible and for perfection, 2) the use of science and technology to achieve that goal, and 3) the exploration of the irrational side of man...
The major concepts or themes in "The Birthmark" which I would identify as typical of its period are 1) man's striving for the impossible and for perfection, 2) the use of science and technology to achieve that goal, and 3) the exploration of the irrational side of man and his resistance to, or his attempt to transcend, reason and religion, which in previous ages were the main guides in human life.
Aylmer becomes obsessed with his wife Georgiana's birthmark and the imperfection it supposedly represents. In our time we might consider this a symptom of OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But in the story, it's also symbolic of man's newfound belief, in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, that he is no longer bound by the limitations and restrictions imposed by religious beliefs. Aylmer can be likened to Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein, who has the audacity to create life and thus to defy the supremacy of God. Both Frankenstein and the stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann, such as "The Sandman," set the tone for other authors' concerns about speculative science and just how much man will be able to accomplish with it. Aylmer is a researcher who believes he can eliminate his wife's "flaw," as he views it, by applying his scientific discoveries, but his attempt backfires. This theme similarly occurs in Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter," and, in a somewhat different form, in "The Artist of the Beautiful."
The irony is that although Aylmer is a scientist, his whole mindset is irrational and even approaches psychosis. Nineteenth-century writers were obsessed with the darker, perverse impulses of human nature. It's a paradox that futuristic science is often presented in conjunction with supernatural, Gothic elements. Hawthorne sets "The Birthmark," like other stories, in the past, in "the last century," in a seemingly dark, remote place. And Aylmer is an example of an ambiguous Romantic figure who is, or thinks himself, a kind of demigod, trying to achieve what is normally considered impossible for man. Other examples of such heroes or anti-heroes, with or without the trappings of science, are Melville's Ahab, Emily Bronte's Heathcliff, and Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll.