What theme(s) do you find in Hawthorne's "The Birthmark," and is there a symbol regarding Georgiana's birthmark that supports the theme(s)?
In Hawthorne's short story, "The Birthmark," we are presented with the character of Georgiana, a beautiful woman married to a brilliant scientist. The only impediment, in Aylmer's mind (the husband) is that his wife has a birthmark on her cheek. Whereas Georgiana had thought it was a "charm" that she was born with:
To tell you the truth it has been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so.
Other suitors felt that it somehow separated her from the masses—made her more alluring—while Aylmer sees it simply as an imperfection.
The story, then, is about Aylmer's insistence that the birthmark should be removed to make his wife "perfect."
"Dearest Georgiana, I have spent much thought upon the subject," hastily interrupted Aylmer. "I am convinced of the perfect practicability of its removal."
The themes presented in the story include what is real and what is ideal, and which is better. Where Georgiana was perfectly happy as she was, her husband finally convinces her that she must have the mark removed.
"If there be the remotest possibility of it," continued Georgiana, "let the attempt be made at whatever risk. Danger is nothing to me; for life, while this hateful mark makes me the object of your horror and disgust..."
In a sense, she is giving away the essence of herself, sacrificing it to his perception of perfection. There is no such thing as perfection, and so Aylmer is pursuing an ideal, a dream; he loses sight of the beauty of the woman he is married to, concentrating not on who she is and how lucky he is to have her. He is unsatisfied and ends up sacrificing her life for something as elusive as a dream.
Another theme here—which would speak to the age old battle between the value and evil of science, as opposed to the pure essence of nature—is found in the conflict of science vs. nature. Like a god, Aylmer sees himself as one who borders on the divine. Where only God through nature can create a true thing of beauty, this intellectual, arrogant man believes he has the power through the power of his mind and science to "fix" what nature has "messed up."
Another theme may be that one must look within to find beauty and acceptance, and resist the temptation to listen to others who think they know what is best and right for someone else. Being unique, by definition, describes something or someone is like no other. Why is it, then, that so many things in society—advertisers for make-up, hair color and toothpaste, as well as a youngster's peers or an adult's friends—feel the need to fix what is not broken?
According to critics of the story, the birthmark could be a symbol of "God's blessing" or the devil's curse. This is a point that critics cannot agree upon. However, I find that it is symbolic of Georgiana's individuality. Aylmer perceives it as something loathsome—and sadly, eventually it is not only Aylmer that sees it as a gross imperfection, but Georgiana comes to believe it as well.