Hawthorne’s The Birth-Mark

Written February 1, 2020

Nina Baym’s argument states that “[B]ecause Hawthorne represented women simultaneously as embodiments of misogynistic male fantasies about women and as ‘real’ women struggling against these fantasies, it [is] appropriate to call him a feminist.” After reading Hawthorne’s “The Birth-Mark”, I would say that this story could support her argument. Hawthorne’s character, Aylmer, is completely misogynistic towards his wife, Georginia, but Hawthorne stresses the importance of natural beauty through other characters.

The struggle between the couple starts on page 695, where they have a conversation where Aylmer decided to shame his wife’s birthmark on her cheek. He claimed that “the visible mark” signified “earthly imperfection.” Aylmer becomes obsessed with the idea of “fixing” his wife’s physical beauty to match his ideal version of perfection. His focus on what Alymer called “the Crimson Hand” inevitably resulted in his wife dying. Other unnamed men in this story, rather than disregarding her based on a birth mark, created this fairy tale backstory for her birthmark where the birthmark was actually a charm for men rather than a repellent. Even Alymer’s own assistant, Aminadab, mentions that “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birth-mark” (699). All of the other men within this story value Georgina’s beauty for exactly the way it is.

Alymer’s fixation of “perfecting” his wife into his ideal version ultimate ends up causing him to lose the ability to see the good in her and allows this extremely small hand-shaped mark to ruin everything he has. Because Georgina dies once Alymer has transformed her into this ethereal, perfect being, it allows us to see that Hawthorne’s understanding of “true perfection” is not something that can truly be found on earth. Everything on this earth has some form of imperfection, but does that make everything unworthy of love or admiration? From how I read Hawthorne’s story, it does not mean that imperfect things are not worthy of being treasured.

Hawthorne includes these small anecdotes from Georgina’s lovers and Aminadab because it’s the most sensible view to have. None of these other male characters would have Georgina changed but rather include her “imperfection” with her already existing perfections. Hawthorne shows us that striving to constantly find this unattainable version of perfection is only a waste for what we could be doing and who we could be appreciating. I mentioned that this story could be used to support Baym’s argument and that is because, if you only read the surface level, it sounds like Hawthorne may be trying to explain that you need to do whatever is necessary to become this ideal version. Hawthorne is not actually taking on the same mindset as Alymer but is actually expressing how detrimental that mindset can be.

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