The Birthmark | Summary, Synopsis, Themes & Characters

Rate this Book
TitleThe Birthmark
AuthorNathaniel Hawthorne
GenreShort story, Gothic fiction
Setting18th-century New England
Writing Style– Dark and Gothic elements
– Rich in symbolism and allegory

The Birthmark Characters

The main characters in The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne are:

  • Aylmer – Brilliant scientist obsessed with perfection.
  • Georgiana – Aylmer’s wife with a small, hand-shaped birthmark on her cheek.
  • Aminadab – Aylmer’s assistant and a man of simple tastes.

The Birthmark Themes

The themes in The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne are:

  • The pursuit of perfection and its potential consequences.
  • The conflict between science and nature.
  • The destructive power of obsession.

The Birthmark Synopsis

“The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a Gothic fiction short story that explores the theme of perfection.

The story follows Aylmer, a scientist, and his wife Georgiana, who has a small birthmark on her cheek. Aylmer becomes fixated on removing the birthmark, believing it to be a flaw that mars Georgiana’s beauty.

Despite Georgiana’s initial reluctance, she agrees to undergo an experimental procedure. However, as the experiment progresses, unforeseen consequences emerge, ultimately leading to a tragic outcome.

Through this tale, Hawthorne delves into the dangers of pursuing an unattainable ideal and the complexities of human nature.

The Birthmark Summary

The narrator presents Aylmer as a talented scientist & natural philosopher who has temporarily halted his investigations to marry the lovely Georgiana. Aylmer asks his spouse whether she has ever considered having the birthmark on her cheek removed. She cheerfully replies no, but becomes serious when she notices he has posed the question sincerely. She claims many people have informed her that the mark is a lucky charm, and she has always suspected they were correct. Aylmer claims that every blemish is alarming because of her flawless face. Georgiana is enraged at first, then sobs, wondering how he can love her if she is upsetting him.

The narrator describes Georgiana’s birthmark as a scarlet mark in the shape of a little hand on her left cheek. When she blushes, the impact vanishes. Georgiana’s male admirers adore the birthmark & many are willing to risk their lives to kiss it. Some ladies believe the mark diminishes her beauty, but the narrator dismisses this notion.

Aylmer is obsessed with his birthmark. It represents mortality and sin to him and towers over Georgiana’s beauty in his thoughts. He has no other ideas. She reminds him of a dream he had one night. He said in his sleep that they had to remove her heart. Aylmer recalls having a plan in which he removed the birthmark with a knife, diving until he reached his wife’s heart, which he chose to cut out. Georgiana claims she is willing to risk her life to get the birthmark removed. Aylmer, who is overjoyed, agrees to give it a shot. He compares himself to Pygmalion and expresses entire faith in his talents. He kisses the unblemished cheek of his wife.

They decide to relocate to the flats where Aylmer keeps his laboratory. He’s already discovered amazing things about fountains, mines, volcanoes & other unique features of nature. He will now return to his study on the origins of life. Aylmer shudders at the sight of Georgiana as the pair enters the laboratory, and she faints. Aminadab, Aylmer’s ugly helper, appears to assist. He claims that he would not have the birthmark removed if Georgiana were his wife.

Georgiana awakens in fragrant chambers specially designed for her. Aylmer consoles her with some of his more mystical creations, which include “airy figures, absolutely bodiless ideas & forms of unsubstantial beauty.” He shows her moving sights that are realistic. Then he offers her a flower that multiplies but dies as soon as she touches it. He then attempts to draw a portrait of her with a metal plate, but he dissolves it with acid when the plate reveals a hand.

Aylmer informs Georgiana about alchemy in between experiments. He believes that if he chose to, he could change primary metal into gold and produce a potion that would offer perpetual life, although knowing that doing so would be wrong. He vanishes for several hours before showing her his cabinet of wonders. One such marvel is a vial with a strong scent. Another is a toxin that, depending on the amount, allows Aylmer to kill someone quickly or over time. Georgiana is shocked, but Aylmer claims the poison has more benefits than drawbacks. He offers her another potion to remove freckles, but he says her birthmark requires a more thorough treatment.

Georgiana thinks Aylmer has been tampering with her meals or forcing her to breathe something in the air. Her body is acting strangely. She studies his scientific library’s books and his tales of his experiments. She sees that his accomplishments need to be more consistent with the goals he sets for himself. Nonetheless, the descriptions of his studies make her idolize him. Aylmer discovers her sobbing over his notebooks, and despite his sympathetic comments, he is enraged. She sings to him, cheering him up.

Georgiana walks to the laboratory a few hours later to look for Aylmer. When he sees her, he becomes enraged, accuses her of spying, and demands her to go. She refuses, stating that Aylmer should trust her and not attempt to disguise his concerns. She swears she’ll drink everything he instructs her to. Aylmer moved, claiming the mark reached deep into her body and that removing it would be risky. Georgiana reflects in her chamber on how wonderful it is that Aylmer refuses to love her as she is, preferring to build his ideal image of her.

He offers her a concoction that he claims is unbreakable. He demonstrates how it removes blots on a geranium. She falls asleep after drinking the liquid. Aylmer looks at her tenderly as though he is witnessing a scientific experiment. The birthmark gradually vanishes. Aminadab chuckles. Georgiana awakens, looks in the mirror, and tells Aylmer that he should not feel terrible for rejecting “the best the earth could offer.” Then she passes away.

The Birthmark FAQs

What is the story The Birthmark about?

“The Birthmark” is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne about a scientist named Aylmer who becomes obsessed with removing a birthmark from his wife’s face, leading to tragic consequences.

What is the main message of the birthmark?

The main message of “The Birthmark” is the flawed nature of perfectionism and the dangers of valuing physical appearance over inner beauty and acceptance.

What did the birthmark symbolize?

The birthmark symbolized imperfection and mortality, representing the protagonist’s obsession with attaining perfection and his wife’s humanity and mortality.

Why is Aylmer obsessed with removing the birthmark?

Aylmer is obsessed with removing the birthmark because he sees it as a flaw and symbolizes his desire for perfection and control over nature and his wife.

What does Aylmer’s character symbolize?

Aylmer’s character symbolizes the destructive pursuit of perfection and the inability to accept imperfections, leading to tragic consequences.

About the Author-Nathaniel Hawthorne

the birthmark summary
Full NameNathaniel Hawthorne
BirthdateJuly 4, 1804
BirthplaceSalem, Massachusetts, United States
Death DateMay 19, 1864
OccupationNovelist, Short Story Writer
Notable Works– The Scarlet Letter (1850)
– The House of the Seven Gables (1851)
– The Blithedale Romance (1852)
– “The Marble Faun (1860)
Literary MovementRomanticism, Dark Romanticism
Famous ThemesGuilt, Sin, Puritanism, Morality, Redemption
InfluencesWilliam Shakespeare, John Milton,
Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville,
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Leave a Comment

a to z