The Birthmark

The Birthmark Symbol Analysis

The Birthmark Symbol Icon

The story revolves around the small, pink, hand-shaped birthmark on Georgiana’s cheek. This symbol can be interpreted in a few different ways, which can all work simultaneously.

In one sense, Aylmer sees the birthmark as a symbol of sin and moral degeneracy, and he imagines it ingrained not only on his wife’s skin but on her heart, indicating a significance beyond that of her physical appearance. However, Aylmer does not realize that because it’s a flaw, the birthmark connects Georgiana to the physical, natural world. As her “sole token of human imperfection,” the mark allows her to continue living on the earthly plane. Its removal kills her because she becomes too perfect for the world of flawed humans.

The hand-shaped mark also represents the grip of mortality, a reminder that Georgiana, a human created by nature, will one day die. Aylmer’s anxiety around the birthmark shows his general anxiety at the idea of mortality, largely because death makes everyone equal. Even Georgiana, his almost-perfect wife, will be no better than everyone else when she’s dead and buried. This interpretation implies that the eventual death of humans is in fact the major flaw which nature forces on all her creations, and Aylmer’s quest to remove the birthmark may also be a quest – an impossible quest – to make Georgiana immortal.

Alternately, the birthmark can be read as an allusion to 1 Peter 1:19 in the Bible, which says the faithful are saved from their sins by the “blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” Georgiana is entirely willing to die for Aylmer’s desire for perfection, essentially sacrificing herself for his happiness. According to this Bible verse, she becomes Christlike when Aylmer renders her “without blemish” by removing the birthmark, and she thus becomes the perfect sacrifice, like Jesus, to atone for Aylmer’s own sins in attempting to control God’s creations.

The Birthmark Quotes in The Birthmark

The The Birthmark quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Birthmark. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Birthmark published in 2011.
The Birthmark Quotes

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. The crimson hand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visible frames return to dust. 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.

Related Characters: Aylmer, Georgiana
Related Symbols: The Birthmark
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugi

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Birthmark quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

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.

Related Characters: Aylmer (speaker), Georgiana
Related Symbols: The Birthmark
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

"Why do you come hither? Have you no trust in your husband?" cried he, impetuously....
"Nay, Aylmer," said Georgiana with the firmness of which she possessed no stinted endowment, "it is not you that have a right to complain. You mistrust your wife; you have concealed the anxiety with which you watch the development of this experiment. Think not so unworthily of me, my husband. Tell me all the risk we run, and fear not that I shall shrink; for my share in it is far less than your own.... I submit... And, Aylmer, I shall quaff whatever draught you bring me; but it will be on the same principle that would induce me to take a dose of poison if offered by your hand."
"My noble wife," said Aylmer, deeply moved, "I knew not the height and depth of your nature until now.”

Related Characters: Aylmer (speaker), Georgiana (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Birthmark
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit

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. Then a hoarse, chuckling laugh was heard again! Thus ever does the gross fatality of earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence which, in this dim sphere of half development, demands the completeness of a higher state.

Related Characters: Aylmer, Georgiana, Aminadab
Related Symbols: The Birthmark
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit an

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Get the entire The Birthmark LitChart as a printable PDF.
The birthmark.pdf.medium

The Birthmark Symbol Timeline in The Birthmark

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Birthmark appears in The Birthmark. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Birthmark
Perfection Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...are married, Aylmer asks his wife if she has ever considered trying to remove the birthmark on her cheek. Georgiana replies that she has not, and admits that she always thought... (full context)
Perfection Theme Icon
The narrator describes the birthmark, which is small, pink, hand-shaped, and located on Georgiana’s left cheek. It becomes less visible... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
...Georgiana weren’t so perfect in every other way, Aylmer wouldn’t be so bothered by the birthmark. But as time passes, he becomes more and more obsessed with it. He sees it... (full context)
Perfection Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Whenever the couple should be happy, Aylmer ends up talking about the birthmark, until it becomes the center of their marriage. Whether they’re waking in the morning or... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
One night, Georgiana brings up the birthmark herself for the first time, asking Aylmer if he recalls having a dream about it... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...awake. The dream makes him realize just how much he’s consumed by thoughts of the birthmark. Georgiana asks if it might be possible to remove it, acknowledging that the attempt could... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
...bring her to his laboratory, where he can closely monitor her while he treats the birthmark. Over the course of his life, Aylmer has used his laboratory to successfully investigate numerous... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...Aylmer tries to comfort her, but instead shudders involuntarily when he catches sight of the birthmark. Georgiana faints, and Aylmer calls for Aminadab, his assistant, to help him. Ignorant of all... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
...it takes Georgiana a moment to remember where she is, and she automatically covers the birthmark with her hand. Aylmer reassures her that he now loves the birthmark because it will... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Georgiana pleads with Aylmer not to look at the birthmark. To cheer her up, he gives her a demonstration of his more elegant scientific abilities.... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
...to early photography. However, the image comes out blurry except for the shape of the birthmark, which dominates her cheek. Aylmer hastily destroys the image. He’s embarrassed by these failures. (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
...fact, he’s only telling her about them to show that their current experiment with the birthmark is nothing in comparison. (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
...work to remove skin blemishes. However, he won’t use it on his wife because her birthmark requires a solution that will go deeper than the skin. (full context)
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...of influence on her body that’s making her blood and heart feel odd. But the birthmark doesn’t look any different, and by now she hates it even more than Aylmer does. (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
...admiration of him. He tells her to suspend judgment until after he has removed the birthmark, when he’ll actually deserve her praise. Aylmer then asks Georgiana to sing for him, which... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
...and accuses her of not trusting him. He even suggests that the presence of the birthmark in the room will ruin his work. Georgiana replies that he has deceived her by... (full context)
Perfection Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...invested in the result of this experiment. Though he doesn’t know why, he kisses the birthmark, but still feels disgusted by it. Georgiana herself seems disturbed in her sleep by his... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
...has “rejected the best the earth could offer.” She reveals that she is dying. The birthmark was the only thing keeping her divine spirit connected to a human body, and as... (full context)