Analysis of The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne Essay
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Analysis of The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Although “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne was written in the mid-1800s, its themes and ideas are still a part of society today. The 19th century was a time of change, just as this, the millennium, is a time of great change. Hawthorne’s ideas about science, beauty, and life still play a major part in our lives, despite many improvements. Even today, people try to play “God” and change things that nature has put in place. It’s human curiosity; how much can be changed, how many things can be perfected? The themes in this short story-- religion, gender, and science--were relevant in Hawthorne’s day, and still are many years later. The theme of religion is hidden in the desire to erase…show more content…
Maybe people think so—thousands have cosmetic surgery performed every year as a way of trying to make themselves more beautiful. Religion has taken a step back in society today, so the significance of perfection by God has also been moved to the back burner. But, underlying all the surgeries performed today, is the question: Is it right to change what was given to you by God? Perhaps, but it is not without consequence. Many cosmetic surgeries require painful recovery time or follow-ups, and even some may be dangerous to one’s health. Hawthorne’s gender bias reflects his times, naturally, but they are slightly exaggerated in this story. Georgiana is a rational woman, but Aylmer won’t listen to her. She is a woman and, therefore, is not supposed to have anything to contribute. She agrees to all the attempts to remove her birthmark because she is submissive and can’t bring herself to tell her husband “no.” A “good” wife wouldn’t question her husband’s motives, so she allows him to perform tests and administer concoctions. Even at the moment of her death, as her birthmark is removed, she shows some happiness at pleasing her husband. Georgiana’s worst fear is an unhappy marriage, and she would much rather die than have Aylmer look at her with disgust. Gender bias today is not as strong as it once was but it still exists. For some women, there is still that desire to be submissive and please men. Many women have overcome this, but there remains a gender bias in the workplace,
Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements for “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Birthmark” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Birth-Mark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.• Click Here for a full plot summary and analysis of “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne” •
• Here is an open-access article comparing “The Birthmark” with another short story by Hawthorne •
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1 : Symbolism in “The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Like many other short stories and novels by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Birthmark" is an allegory and much of the allegorical meaning is derived through Nathaniel Hawthorne’s use of symbolism. Since Hawthorne is engaged in the telling of a moral tale, it is only fitting that many of the symbols in “The Birthmark" pertain to deeper allegorical meanings. For instance, the fact that the birth mark that stains his wife’s cheek is in the shape of a red hand denotes (especially because of his obsession with the “hand" of nature) that nature had a direct hand in the “flaw" upon Georgiana’s face. Symbols in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark" can also pertain to human character as well, not just objects. Consider for example the character of Aminadab. This is a name straight from Genesis in the Bible and this character is a “brute" but nonetheless is more of a man because he is in touch with his true nature and comments that he would not remove the birthmark, whereas an “unnatural" man of science would. For this essay on symbolism in “The Birth Mark" consider a number of the elements of symbolism in Hawthorne’s text and fit them into a large thesis statement for “The Birthmark" that concerns allegory.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 : Identifying the Genre for “The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Many critics note that “The Birthmark" was written during a period when Nathaniel Hawthorne was reading a great deal of “penny" novels, most of which were somewhat outlandish, with elements of the supernatural and fantastic and this influenced the story to a great deal. Additionally, other traces of literary forms, including romanticism and the gothic tale are at play as well. While this is a moral allegory, much like many of other works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, including The Scarlet Letter and The Minister’s Black Veil, for instance, consider the influence of other genres and previous works of literature that are ripe for a comparison essay on “The Birthmark" such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, for instance. Other works where you are likely to find similar characters and moral allegories include Doctor Faustus, an examination of Satan in Paradise Lost by Milton, and in any number of the short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. For this essay on “The Birth-Mark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, look to literary influences and try to create a timeline of sorts in your thesis statement that fits this work into romantic literature, gothic conventions, or even classical works with archetypal villains.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3 : The Meaning of Science, Nature, and Perfection in “The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
If you are considering writing an argumentative essay on “The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, you have plenty of options, the most diverse of which includes an explanation of the role of science and nature in this short story. The easiest argument for “The Birthmark" to make on this matter is offering the thesis statement that Nathaniel Hawthorne is trying to warn his readers about the dangers of science or, for that matter, knowledge itself (this same “warning" to readers is also present in novels such as Doctor Faustus and Frankenstein, by the way). If you choose to make the argument that nature has bestowed the birthmark for her own reasons and Aylmer’s attempt to subvert nature’s intentions and is punished, it will be fitting to add that the disembodied laughter he hears at the end is nature laughing at him for trying to understand her. A good thesis statement for this topic of “The Birthmark" might also suggest that Georgiana was perfect already and that as a man, Aylmer is unnatural, whereas his assistant, who is “natural" and even beastly looking, like a “raw" man, is a real man because he understands nature’s plan and says that he would not remove the birthmark. For this argument essay on “The Birth-Mark" consider the ways nature functions in the text and how science is shown to be flawed and an unnatural or wrong endeavor.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4 : The Meaning and Use of Foreshadowing in “The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Foreshadowing is used in this short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne to build suspense and let the reader know that the actions of the main character are not likely to end well. Between Georgiana’s hesitation initially, the statements about how many men found her birthmark to be beautiful, Aminadab’s statement that even he would have left the birthmark alone" and the more obvious examples such as the mysterious laughter, Georgiana’s frequent dialogue about the relationship of her heart to the birthmark, her fainting spell and her husband’s inability to find a cure for the birthmark right away it should have been obvious that this is not what Aylmer should be doing to his wife. The most obvious example of foreshadowing in “The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne however, is the dream that foretells the ending. In some ways, there is almost too much foreshadowing going on in this short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In this essay on “The Birth-Mark" consider if this over-foreshadowing could be present to make the reader more in tune with the impending disaster, thus making them more likely to see the dramatic consequences of Aylmer’s overconfidence. Again, this also relates to the thesis statement about how this is an allegory.
Click Here for a full plot summary and analysis of “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne”
For more insights using a comparison, here is an excellent article comparing themes in “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and “The Birthmark”
* An Important Note * As with many other works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, many of the themes in different works remain consistent. This story can be easily compared to (most especially) “Rappaccini’s Daughter” as well as to other stories that involve themes of evil, sin, and other motifs such as “The Minister’s Black Veil” and “Young Goodman Brown.” Although this is a departure in terms of setting, if you’re writing a comparison essay on “Rappaccini’s Daughter” using other works by Hawthorne should be simple. There are PaperStarter entries for all of these. *
This list of important quotations from “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Birth Mark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “The Birth Mark” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne they are referring to.
“In those days when the comparatively recent discovery of electricity and other kindred mysteries of Nature seemed to open paths into the region of miracle, it was not unusual for the love of science to rival the love of woman in its depth and absorbing energy" (1021).
“It was the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature, in one shape or another, 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" (1022).
“In this manner, selecting it as the symbol of his wife’s liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death, Aylmer’s sombre imagination was not long in rendering the birthmark a frightful object, causing him more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana’s beauty, whether of soul or sense, had given him delight" (1022)
“Aylmer now remembered his dream. He had fancied himself with his servant Aminadab, attempting an operation for the removal of the birthmark; but the deeper went the knife, the deeper sank the hand, until at length its tiny grasp appeared to have caught hold of Georgiana’s heart; whence, however, her husband was inexorably resolved to cut or wrench it away" (1023).
“Forthwith there issued from an inner apartment a man of low stature, but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage, which was grimed with the vapors of the furnace… With his vast strength, his shaggy hair, his smoky aspect, and the indescribable earthiness that incrusted him, he seemed to represent man’s physical nature; while Aylmer’s slender figure, and pale, intellectual face, were no less apt a type of the spiritual element" (1025).
“Airy figures, absolutely bodiless ideas, and forms of unsubstantial beauty came and danced before her, imprinting their momentary footsteps on beams of light. Though she had some indistinct idea of the method of these optical phenomena, still the illusion was almost perfect enough to warrant the belief that her husband possessed sway over the spiritual world" (1026).
“He handled physical details as if there were nothing beyond them; yet spiritualized them all, and redeemed himself from materialism by his strong and eager aspiration towards the infinite. In his grasp the veriest clod of earth assumed a soul" (1028)
“It is dangerous to read in a sorcerer’s books,” said he with a smile, though his countenance was uneasy and displeased. “Georgiana, there are pages in that volume which I can scarcely glance over and keep my senses. Take heed lest it prove as detrimental to you.” ….. “It has made me worship you more than ever,” said she (1028)
“The fatal hand had grappled with the mystery of life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in union with a mortal frame. As the last crimson tint of the birthmark — that sole token of human imperfection — faded from her cheek, the parting breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere, and her soul, lingering a moment near her husband, took its heavenward flight" (1032).
Source : The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne : Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library