Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a time of great change in America. In the mid-nineteenth century, Americans began to experience a shift in focus from the once stringent religious outlook to a more scientific view of the world and its natural wonders. Americans, however, did look at these new scientific discoveries with much hesitation, questioning their long-term effects on society as a whole. Hawthorne’ s work, “The Birth Mark echoes these sentiments and combine natural faith with a confidence in science to make a very interesting tale. This tale and its morality convey a message to the reader that there is a price for tampering with the natural order of things.
This story opens by explaining how educated and knowledgeable Aylmer is, and the narrator even suggests that he may have the power to alter nature. “ We know not whether Aylmer possesses this degree of faith in man’s ultimate control over nature (Birthmark, 1262 ).”As Aylmer tries to use science to alter nature, or in this case, the birthmark on his wife’s cheek, his plan backfires and his wife dies. The death of Georgiana shows that knowledge is dangerous if used in the wrong way. The influence of the evolution of culture has caused men to educate themselves, and learn extensive amounts about science. However, some men like Aylmer take advantage of their intelligence and try to play the role of God. Aylmer allowed his mind to consume his heart, resulting in the senseless death of his beautiful wife.
Culture teaches men that if they learn enough that they can manipulate nature; however, in the Birthmark, Hawthorne shows that intelligence still can’t overcome nature and thus culture is self-destructive. The fact the whole story is about removing a physical flaw from Georgiana’s face when she is already obviously beautiful demonstrates the degree to which Aylmer has allowed this pursuit of knowledge and culture to destroy his ability to perceive nature’s beauty. In this text, Georgiana and her birthmark represent nature, and culture is represented by Aylmer. Culture has taught men to question the flaws of women that they once found intriguing, therefore Aylmer is challenging nature when he tries to remove it. Aylmer is so wrapped up in this culture that he treats Georgiana as property. Her opinion about the removal of the birthmark was of little concern to him. Therefore, culture asserts that it is not only a separate entity from nature but that it has superior qualities.
Because of Aylmer’s belief that culture is superior to nature, the Creator of nature and culture alike chose to punish him. The punishment was not in an effort to be vengeful, but to show him what should have been important to him was not the birthmark on Georgiana’s face, but the beauty that she possessed both inside and out that made him desire to spend the rest of his days with her. “…he failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of Time, and living once and for all in Eternity, to find the perfect Future in the present (Birthmark, 1273);” therefore, he was forced to spend eternity without the one that truly loved him—unconditionally.
Michelson, Bruce. Norton Anthology of American Literature. The Birtmark, pp1261-73.