The Birthmark


Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Submission and Sacrifice Theme Analysis

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.
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon

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 fuller understanding of the potential dangers of the experiment, she continues to urge her husband to remove the mark at any cost. In fact, Georgiana tells Aylmer that if he offered her poison, she would drink it. This sort of submission shows the degree of power that husbands often expected to have over their wives—the power of life and death. Georgiana’s inability to imagine anything beyond her husband’s opinion of her leads to her death, which she welcomes.

When it comes down to it, Georgiana would rather die than have her husband shudder to look upon her face, and so she essentially offers up her happiness and her life as a sacrifice to her husband’s egotistical need to have a physically perfect wife. Her decision to do so could even be seen as a Christlike sacrifice, in that she dies for her husband’s arrogance in playing God. In fact, the Bible verse 1 Peter 1:19 says that the faithful are saved from their sins by the “blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” In light of this verse, it could be argued that Aylmer’s removal of the birthmark—the “blemish or spot”—makes Georgiana the perfect stand-in for Christ to save Aylmer from his sins by her sacrifice.

Aminadab also submits to Aylmer’s orders. He doesn’t think Aylmer should remove the birthmark, but he makes no real effort to convince Aylmer not to, and instead provides the physical energy necessary to complete the experiment. Georgiana and Aminadab’s acquiescence to Aylmer’s will reinforces the impression that Aylmer has of himself—he is the husband, the master, the scientist, and is beyond fault. In the nineteenth-century Christian household, the male head of the family was in fact regarded as being the closest to God, and the rest of the family was supposed to accept his religious teachings when an actual clergyman was not present. Aylmer takes this a step further by attempting to act as a god, and through their submission to his will, Georgiana and Aminadab uphold Aylmer’s idea of himself as such. That the story ends disastrously, of course, calls into question both unquestioning submission and the arrogance that expects it.

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Submission and Sacrifice ThemeTracker

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Submission and Sacrifice Quotes in The Birthmark

Below you will find the important quotes in The Birthmark related to the theme of Submission and Sacrifice.
The Birthmark Quotes

"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:

After his departure Georgiana became rapt in musings. She considered the character of Aylmer, and did it completer justice than at any previous moment. Her heart exulted, while it trembled, at his honorable love—so pure and lofty that it would accept nothing less than perfection nor miserably make itself contented with an earthlier nature than he had dreamed of. She felt how much more precious was such a sentiment than that meaner kind which would have borne with the imperfection for her sake, and have been guilty of treason to holy love by degrading its perfect idea to the level of the actual; and with her whole spirit she prayed that, for a single moment, she might satisfy his highest and deepest conception. Longer than one moment she well knew it could not be; for his spirit was ever on the march, ever ascending, and each instant required something that was beyond the scope of the instant before.

Related Characters: Aylmer, Georgiana
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis: