The Birthmark


Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Themes and Colors
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Birthmark, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Science, Nature, and Religion

“The Birthmark” centers around the conflict between science and nature. Aylmer cannot accept Georgiana as nature made her, and instead feels driven to use his scientific knowledge to erase what he sees as nature’s imperfection. The birthmark on Georgiana’s face is, by definition, a mark that formed in the womb. It is an entirely natural occurrence, and the narrator implies that the mark exists for a reason – to keep Georgiana imperfect enough to remain…

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The narrator describes Georgiana as perfect in every way except for the birthmark on her cheek. Aylmer loves Georgiana, but he cannot stand this one aspect of her that falls short of perfection. Aylmer becomes so obsessed with making Georgiana absolutely perfect that her one supposed imperfection comes to blind him to everything else good about her. While other men find ways to look fondly on the birthmark, Aylmer ruins his married life by dwelling…

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Fatal Pride

Aylmer exhibits the trait known as hubris, a pride that results in his own downfall. The idea of hubris originates with Greek stage tragedies such as Oedipus Rex, but many characters since ancient times have similarly suffered from their own sense of superiority. Aylmer, for one, has complete confidence in his own scientific methods, despite the failures he has experienced in the past. Even though he has never made an elixir of life, for…

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Submission and Sacrifice

Throughout the story, Georgiana acts in complete, unquestioning obedience to Aylmer’s wishes and submits to his will even before he asks her to. Wives of Hawthorne’s time were expected to obey their husbands, so Georgiana is, in a sense, the “perfect” wife, reflecting her physical perfection and the story’s overall concern with perfection. She herself suggests that Aylmer remove the birthmark since it bothers him so much, and even as she comes to a…

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On one level, the birthmark stands for mortality, and Aylmer’s obsession with the mark reflects his obsession with and fear of mortality itself. The birthmark, in this view, is like nature’s brand on its product – Georgiana – to mark it as flawed. But while flaws are often thought of in moral terms, the flaw represented by the birthmark can also be seen as a purely mechanical one, a symbol of the fact that…

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