Themes and Meanings
Allegories seldom produce well-rounded characters because their purpose is primarily philosophical and didactic. Aylmer is undoubtedly the Faustian man who is never satisfied with his own limitations. Ordinary nature is never good enough to fulfill his idealistic aspirations, and like both Christopher Marlowe’s and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, he is entranced with the Greek ideal of perfect beauty. In terms of visible beauty, Georgiana cannot compete with Helen of Troy, the supernatural succubus provided by Mephistopheles for Faustus. On the other hand, she can appeal to Aylmer’s attraction to spiritual beauty and thus perhaps save his soul, like Gertrude, instead of assuring his damnation as the spurious Helen did for Faustus in Marlowe’s version. Aylmer’s ultimate fate is not resolved in the story. Presumably, he, like Ethan Brand, another of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s protagonists, has found the one unforgivable sin in himself: intellectual pride.
Aylmer is never covetous of evil pleasures. He aspires upward, always, toward the ideal. In this sense, he is less believable as a human specimen than the Renaissance Faustus, who craved sensual experience as well as knowledge and power. Aylmer seems to have been corrupted by the idealist’s tendency toward abstraction and discontent with reality. In fact, he hardly seems sufficiently empirical in orientation to make a good scientist. However, the reader is assured that “he handled physical...
(The entire section is 473 words.)