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Human Imperfection Illustrated in Hawthorne's The Birthmark Essay example

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It is hard to say that one is human and perfect at the same time. Human beings are not capable of achieving perfection; if that would be so, humans would stop being humans. By nature the human race is full of flaws, some appearing as early as in the womb. From defects in the body, to defects in the mind, to the mistakes that one makes in quotidian life, it is impossible to deny that human imperfection exists. To try to manipulate humans into perfection is not only impossible, but it takes away the very essence of being a human being. The short story “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorn, illustrates this teaching through the character of Aylmer, an ambitious and devoted scientist who is appalled by his wife Georgiana’s birthmark, believing it to be a perceivable sign of her human flaws and eagerly waits to remove it from her cheek. This story raises riveting questions such as, what is humanity all about, can human beings ever achieve perfection through science, is Hawthorn attacking science or a wider issue, and more significantly, should science take the place of God. Through the use of symbolism in “The Birthmark”, Hawthorn indirectly implies that imperfection is an essential part of being human and that science should not interfere; thus he is hinting his personal views toward science and its limitations over nature.

To understand the message of “The Birthmark”, we must first understand the events and circumstances that took place in Hawthorn’s time period which most likely prompted him to write this short story. Nathaniel Hawthorn was a 19th century novelist who is perhaps best known for writing The Scarlet Letter. In Hawthorn’s time, a new belief system called positivism was on the rise. Positivism exalted science. This ne...


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...ection. By removing the birthmark from Georgiana’s face, Aylmer has taken away her humanity thus leading Georgiana to her death. Georgiana cannot live anymore because she is no longer a human being. Therefore claiming that science has its limits over nature and if those limits are crossed the consequences could be fatal.

It would be no surprise if the uprising of positivism in Hawthorne’s time influenced him to write this story. The reader must keep in mind that Hawthorne wrote this story in a time where many perhaps frowned upon scientific research. If he would have written the story in this current time period, it might have been written differently. “The Birthmark” attacks science in a way by presenting it as an unstoppable force determined to find a solution and perfection to everything. Science cannot completely perfect nature but it can try to improve it.


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