In "The Birth-Mark", what does the birthmark symbolize and why does Alymer remove it?

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In "The Birth-Mark,” Hawthorne suggests that women can equal or surpass men, but not surpass them in every way. He does this by creating a story about a woman who gains great acclaim for her work, but still must be subordinate to her husband because she is a woman.

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Georgiana's birthmark is repeatedly linked to human nature and the fact that we are imperfect and inevitably destined for decay and death. The mark is repeatedly described as being "crimson" in color, and it bears "not a little similarity to the human hand," though it is much smaller. The narrator...

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even references jealous women who refer to Georgian's birthmark as a "bloody hand." Further, it is "deeply interwoven [...] with the texture and substance of her face." Some say that Georgiana is otherwise perfect but for this mark, and the narrator claims that

It was the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature [...] stamps ineffaceably on all her productions, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain. The crimson hand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the lowest [...] like whom their visible frames return to dust.

Thus, natural things, such as people, are all going to pass away someday, and all are ultimately reduced to the same dust. Georgiana's birthmark is a symbol of her mortality. It is the color of blood (itself often synonymous with life), shaped like a hand (not, for example, a paw or claw or hoof), and is linked to her finite nature. Humans are not perfect and cannot live forever. It does not take long for the proud Aylmer, Georgiana's husband, to select "it as the symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death [...]." He recognizes it not as a symbol of her human beauty and fragility but of her human nature to be imperfect and corruptible. He wants to remove it and to be the one to perfect Georgiana, saying,

I feel myself fully competent to render this dear cheek as faultless as its fellow; and then, most beloved, what will be my triumph when I shall have corrected what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work!

He feels, with his complete trust in science, that he can do a better job than Nature. Such a dream—to improve on what Nature has made—almost never works out in literature, and this story is no different. Symbolic of her mortality, when Georgiana's birthmark has been removed, she dies.

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Birthmark," what does the birthmark symbolize to Aylmer?

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “The Birthmark,” the small birthmark on the cheek of Georgiana, the wife of a scientist named Aylmer, eventually becomes the focus of Aylmer’s obsessive attention. In an attempt to remove the birthmark, Aylmer ironically kills his wife. To Aylmer, the birthmark seems to have a variety of meanings, including the following:

* When Aylmer first discusses the birthmark with his wife, he tells her that he sees it as a “visible mark of earthly imperfection.”  This is a highly ironic comment, since Aylmer’s obsession with Georgiana’s alleged physical imperfection symbolizes his own moral and spiritual imperfection. Instead of finding fault with the way his wife looks, he should instead scrutinize his own mind and heart for the possible flaws they contain.

* Also, by seeing the birthmark as a symbol of “earthly imperfection,” Aylmer implies his dissatisfaction with God’s creation.  His attitude symbolizes his own pride and is highly presumptuous. Earthly existence may indeed reveal imperfections, but it is hardly Aylmer’s job to rectify those imperfections, least of all in others and especially not before he has made a thorough examination of himself to discover and root out his own possible flaws.

* Aylmer also sees the birthmark as a symbol of the morality of Georgiana and indeed of all human beings, including himself:

The crimson hand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visible frames return to dust.

In other words, Aylmer interprets the hand as a sign of the death that inevitably awaits all human beings. His unwillingness to accept death is yet another indication of his pride and presumption. He tries to set himself as a kind of demi-god, able to eliminate imperfection and defeat death. Only the true God (Hawthorne would have believed) has such power and such rights.  Ironically, the more Aylmer tries to eliminate Georgiana’s imperfection, the more he reveals his own.

* Aylmer also sees the birthmark as an opportunity for him to demonstrate his scientific skills. He turns his wife into a kind of human guinea pig on whom he can experiment. So confident is he of his scientific abilities that it never seems to occur to him that his experiment might fail, with disastrous consequences for his wife. He is confident of his abilities despite many reasons to be humble, but humility does not seem to be a major part of Aylmer’s make-up.

The true defect in this story, then, resides not on Georgiana’s cheek but in Aylmer’s mind, heart, and soul. Those are the places where the real imperfection lies.

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