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The Birthmark | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Birthmark | Quotes


In the latter part of the last century there lived a man of science ... who not long before our story opens had made experience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one.


The story's opening line establishes Aylmer's professional obsession with science as at odds with his interest in an emotional or "spiritual" life.


Shocks you, my husband! ... You cannot love what shocks you!


Georgiana is very upset to learn that Aylmer is perturbed by her birthmark. She is concerned his "shock" is a threat to their marriage because it suggests he does not really love her if he can't accept her fully for who she is.


It was the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature ... 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.


The narrator says that the birthmark symbolizes that everything dies and that attempting to perfect it is painful and difficult.


If there be the remotest possibility of it ... let the attempt be made, at whatever risk.


Following Aylmer's dream, Georgiana insists that he must find a way to remove the birthmark. This establishes a pattern in the story in which Georgiana puts herself at physical risk in order to appease Aylmer's wishes until it finally kills her.


Doubt not my power.


Aylmer tells Georgiana that he can definitely remove her birthmark and save them both. His statement takes the form of a command, revealing his egotism and God complex.


If she were my wife, I'd never part with that birthmark.


The laboratory assistant, as opposed to Aylmer, sees the value and beauty of the birthmark.


Your case demands a remedy that shall go deeper.


Aylmer insists that his wife's birthmark is not just a skin blemish but a blemish on her spirit as well, and so his remedy must be especially powerful. His aim to remove the birthmark is as much psychological or spiritual as it is scientific.


Much as he had accomplished, she could not but observe that his most splendid successes were almost invariably failures, if compared with the ideal at which he aimed.


When Georgiana reads Aylmer's journals, she learns about how often he fails. This makes her afraid and not as willing to trust his judgment, but she also admires Aylmer more for making the attempt. She soon becomes as obsessed as he is at achieving the ideal.


Have you no trust in your husband? ... Go, prying woman! Go!


Aylmer is angered when Georgiana walks into his laboratory and sees how anxious he is. He does not want her to realize that he lacks full confidence in his scientific endeavors for fear it will make him appear less powerful.


Unless all my science have deceived me, it cannot fail.


Aylmer is convinced of his success in creating his potion and that it will remove the birthmark, but at the expense of Georgiana's life.


Aylmer—dearest Aylmer—I am dying!


The birthmark disappears, but Georgiana dies, and even as she does so, she still has affection for Aylmer and tells him not to regret what he has done in the cause of achieving his goals.

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