“The Birthmark” Essay

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Lopar Perfection and Dissatisfaction in Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” A friend once described his difficulty in finding a girlfriend by using a scale as a symbol. “On one side,” he told me, “is potential”. On the other side is reality. At first, potential is way at the top. It’s just that the longer I know her, the more the scale tilts from potential on the high side to reality on the high side and then potential is resting on the ground. This dim and mutually exclusive perception of reality and potential precludes the idea that perfection, or at least satisfaction, can exist in the present, an idea that Hawthorne’s character, Aylmer, would certainly agree with. Another way, of course, to interpret the sides of the scale are to relate the “potential” side with perfection and the “reality” side with dissatisfaction. The most predominant symbol in Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” and the one that causes Aylmer to pit perfection against dissatisfaction in a fatal conflict, is the birthmark itself. In the shape of a hand, the mark stands for more than just physical imperfection. On a physical level, it stands for what scientists now refer to as nature in the “nature vs. nurture” dialogue. Georgiana was born with it. It is simply a part of her body, her matter. It also stands for nature in another sense of the word. It is nature’s hand against man’s, against Aylmer’s. We see that when man tries to cut nature out, then nature responds and cuts man out. On a subjective spiritual level, it is a symbol much like a mirror: it reflects the heart or mind of the beholder. It is on this level that the most analysis can be gleaned, for the differing interpretations of the mark reveal the differences in each characters personality and the result of these differences. Finally, on an objective level—taking the story’s 3rd person omniscient narrator as most closely representative of

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