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Reading Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”

On the first reading of the Story, answer the following questions:

1.   Who are the three characters in the stories?  Name them and list some of each one’s character traits.
Georgiana- Beauty, perfection (except for birthmark), love, motherly mother
   -^ Birthmark- imperfection, mortality
Achimindad – lab assistant, wants/ longs for what he can’t have (Georgiana)

2.  What are the relationships among the characters?
Aylmer + Georgiana= husband and wife
Achminidad= lab assistance to Aylmer

3.  What is the major conflict in the story?  Can you identify a second and third level of conflict in the story?
aylmer’s vs Georgiana: man vs man
aylmer Science vs aylmer’s love: man vs himself
love/ nature/ spirit vs with science and logical

4.  What is the story’s locale?  Give some details about the immediate setting of each of the events of the story.  How might having a scientific laboratory in your home affect dynamics between people?

5.  In general, when in the story set? What impact might the time of the story have on the couple’s relationship?
Male female relationships have evolved vastly since the 19th century, women more empowering


1.  Write a brief outline of the story.  Identify specific questions you have about details you find interesting or confusing. 

2. Comment on how men and women were positioned with respect to science in the 19th century as depicted in the first paragraph.
Science competed with marriage, the two could not coexist, and science was also seen as new and exciting with infinite possibilities

3. Explain how the relationship between Nature and a scientist is portrayed in the first paragraph. Can you find similar references in the other parts of the story?

4. What does Aylmer’s name signify? (look it up in a baby names dictionary online)
Infamous, noble and famous

5. How does Aylmer perceive science and marriage in the first paragraph?
They are battling and only one can come out,
In the same sense that an alcoholic replaces one addiction with an “addiction, Aylmer replaces the human need (seen throughout human history) for a “higher power” or religion, with science and the power of explanation.

6. The birthmark on Georgiana’s face has “readability”. What does it tell us about the beholders, e.g. women, Georgiana’s lovers, masculine observers, Aylmer, the narrator?
masculine observers find her even more desirable= beauty in difference- true beauty is in difference or absolute (unobtainable) perfection, depending on eye of beholder/ nature= beauty in difference relation
women- in obvious jealousy- see the “ugliness” in the slight imperfection, they probably have greater imperfections or things they are self conscience of

7. What is Georgiana’s perception of her birthmark at the beginning of the story? Does her perception change later? If yes, explain why.
Slightly, it’s earlier said that she would blush when it was brought up, sometimes she could feel really self conscience about it and other times not bother her, her perception changes as she realizes how it bothers the man who loves/ supposed to love her
yes, that she would give up her confidence in something that made her unique to satisfy her husband, only did it because of intense pressure to make things work with someone she lover

8. Why is the birthmark described as a manual?
compared to Ayler’s folio volume where he records the surgery on Georgiana,

9. Discuss the function of the birthmark as a metaphor in the story. What is the significance of the crimson hand?
Crimson is a color of vigor and life and also of blood, it contrasts greatly with pale, its her “life force” what makes Georgiana unique, every human is thought to be “unique” and in differences we’re united

10. What could be the reason(s) for Aylmer’s obsession with the removal of the birthmark?
he deeply wants to know there’s more to life than scientific explanations and the importance of “perfect” in science-the scientists can play god and say what could be better or what to change  get rid of- nothing is “perfect”, and sees the imperfect birthmark as ruining something that is “perfect” and would lead him to see the other side of his vastly scientific life
only god can create beauty in perfection- nature
man was not meant to create perfection- Georgiana dies as Aylmer shouts “she is perfect”

11. What does the removal of the birthmark signify? Why does he want to eradicate the mark?

12. What does Georgiana’s name signify?
comes from Greek word meaning “farmer,”

13. What does Aminadab’s name signify?

14. Read the following excerpt and explain the significance of Aylmer’s dream in the story: “The mind is in a sad state when Sleep, the all-involving, cannot confine her spectres within the dim region of her sway, but suffers them to break forth, affrighting this actual life with secrets that perchance belong to a deeper one. 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.”

15. Discuss how the following two excerpts could help us understand the relationship between Georgiana and Aylmer: “…Danger is nothing to me; for life, while this hateful mark makes me the object of your horror and disgust, — life is a burden which I would fling down with joy. Either remove this dreadful hand, or take my wretched life! You have deep science. All the world bears witness of it. You have achieved great wonders. Cannot you remove this little, little mark, which I cover with the tips of two small fingers? Is this beyond your power, for the sake of your own peace, and to save your poor wife from madness?”“Noblest, dearest, tenderest wife,” cried Aylmer. rapturously, “doubt not my power. I have already given this matter the deepest thought — thought which might almost have enlightened me to create a being less perfect than yourself. Georgiana, you have led me deeper than ever into the heart of science. 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! Even Pygmalion, when his sculptured woman assumed life, felt not greater ecstasy than mine will be.”

16. Explain how the reference to Pygmalion functions in the story.
looks like a pygmy or fairy hand,

17. Examine how Aylmer’s laboratory and boudoir are described and discuss what they could signify in the story.

18. Locate the paragraphs in which Aminadab is portrayed and discuss his function in the story.
laughs as Aylmer’s tragic loss, can be see as cruel if his motive is because of jealousy and his desires towards Georgiana

19. Comment on the following excerpt:“”Yes, master,” answered Aminadab, looking intently at the lifeless form of Georgiana; and then he muttered to himself, “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark.”

20. What do the volumes of Aylmer’s scientific library represent in the story?
His dedication and knowledge of a subject which Aylmer has immersed his life. Replaced 

21. Examine the following description of the laboratory to identify the metaphor used and discuss what message Hawthorne could be conveying through this metaphor: “The first thing that struck her eye was the furnace, that hot and feverish worker, with the intense glow of its fire, which by the quantities of soot clustered above it seemed to have been burning for ages. There was a distilling apparatus in full operation. Around the room were retorts, tubes, cylinders, crucibles, and other apparatus of chemical research. An electrical machine stood ready for immediate use. The atmosphere felt oppressively close, and was tainted with gaseous odors which had been tormented forth by the processes of science. The severe and homely simplicity of the apartment, with its naked walls and brick pavement, looked strange, accustomed as Georgiana had become to the fantastic elegance of her boudoir. But what chiefly, indeed almost solely, drew her attention, was the aspect of Aylmer himself.”

22. Why do you think Aylmer is often described as “pale”?
the lack of “life” and will to live that many scientists who “have it all figured out” –(find related quote) find them selves living in as a result of losing the magic/awe of life- those things that cant be explained

23. What does the following excerpt tell us about Georgiana and women in general the 19th century?: “Save on your account, my dearest Aylmer,” observed his wife, “I might wish to put off this birthmark of mortality by relinquishing mortality itself in preference to any other mode. Life is but a sad possession to those who have attained precisely the degree of moral advancement at which I stand. Were I weaker and blinder it might be happiness. Were I stronger, it might be endured hopefully. But, being what I find myself, methinks I am of all mortals the most fit to die.”
Reliance on often unreliable male/ dominant figures, divorce is practically unheard of

24. What is the significance of Aminadab’s laughter at the end of the story?
Maybe he found Aylmer’s brief belief of success followed by a tragic failure humorous,  delights in no loner feeling jealousy and longing for Georgiana which he could never had had (if I can’t have it no one else should either)

25. How would you interpret “The Birthmark” as a vampire story?
Immortality, death and life, crimson can be viewed as blood

26. List some of the themes in the story.
Nothing is perfect.
Appreciate the small things.
Learn to accept differences

27. What message(s) would the story be conveying to the reader? How would you apply these messages to the contemporary world we live in?
Constant references to “Clay, earthly mass” symbolic of the creation of man by god
Apply a faith in god and great recognition of the err of mankind (Puritan ideals- seen constant in Hawthorne’s writing)
“Perfect future in the present”- the love he could’ve felt for Georgiana their whole time together but couldn’t appreciate what he had

DO NOT MOVE ON TO THE NEXT SECTION UNTIL YOU HAVE COMPLETED PART 2                                                                                                                                                                       

1.  What is "marriage," what's the nature of a "good marriage," or a "good relationship"?  Love, trust, honesty are pretty constant, a good fit of personalities (one dominant one submissive, similar ideas/ personality)

2. What's the nature of beauty? Do we go wrong when we define beauty?  Physical beauty seems to vary culture to culture, though evolutionary imprints of fertility (wide hips (for child birth), hour glass figure) for women; and protective and providing (strong, tall) for men. Beauty is unique and rare, not commercial, internal personality (angelic spirit in Georgiana) often result in appreciating the deeper, truer beauty

3. What does the story say about the pursuit of perfection? What would make this pursuit acceptable?  Is it reasonable to expect sacrifices from others as this quest is pursued?  Are scientists free from these considerations?  Why/why not?

4. What does the story indicate about the relationship between self-image and happiness? What do the characters think about this relationship? Self image is important to be happy, if Georgiana believed herself to be pretty than it wouldn’t mind what her husband said. Aylmer just focused on physical mark and not internal beauty. Self image should be used in combination with self appreciation, image is not everything which is where Georgiana true beauty lay

5.  Is idealism a kind of madness? What makes Aylmer's idealism "mad"? 
Nothing is ever going to be perfect, idealism is a fantasy and to bring about in reality is impossible, to obsess over this impossibly is madness especially to the point of killing your wife

6. What does the story suggest about the human imperative to dominate and control nature?  Do the characters reflect on the relationship between the need to control and the need for balance? Just with the impossibility for science and religion to co exist, the same conflict seems to separate dominant and submissive. There needs to be a balance, between control and obey.

7. Does the story imply that Georgiana’s submission to Aylmer requires her to suspend her intelligence and/or her logical capacities? Why does Georgiana submit to Aylmer? Do women still submit to others in this way? Yes it implies her to place personal feelings and logical flaws on hold because the obvious risk that was associated with the surgical removal of the birthmark was completely ignored by a rational and intelligent woman, however it was apparent no price was too high for her to become perfect in the eyes of her husband, the submission is common in older relationships and still seen today, the role of dominant and submissive partners is an evolutionary trait for efficiency and survival

8. Is excessive pride at the heart of Aylmer's will to power? Is it his "fatal flaw"?   Does Georgiana have pride?  How is it different from Aylmer’s? Georgiana’s humility added to the beuty of her, knowing she was “perfect” would add arrogance and other character defects into her angelic spirit

9.  Is this story a tragedy? Whose tragedy? Tragedy because Aylmer’s wife, the unappreciated work of beauty, is gone just as Aylmer truly begins to realize his error in not recognizing the beauty

This post first appeared on College Cranium, please read the originial post: here

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Reading Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”


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