Voltaire time, people have always strived for

February 7, 2019 General Studies

Voltaire once said, “Perfection is the enemy of good”. Since the beginning of time, people have always strived for perfection. To this day, they are still willing to spend tremendous amounts of time and money towards shortcuts to perfection such as plastic surgery, diet pills, or makeup. They want to be perceived as flawless, no matter what the risk. Even if they were to perfect their physical appearance, they are sure to have other faults that cannot be seen by the human eye. In “The Birthmark”, Hawthorne shares with his audience his feelings about the impossibility of perfection through the symbolism of Georgiana’s birthmark, the foreshadowing of her death, and the description of her appearance. He shares this in hope that humanity will see how unrealistic it is to strive for perfection, as their flaws make them human and perfection is unachievable.
The short story, “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, tells the story of a newly married couple, Aylmer and Georgiana. Georgiana is a beautiful woman but has only one fatal flaw, a small birthmark on her cheek. This birthmark drives Aylmer mad, he becomes obsessed and fixated on removing it in order to restore Georgiana to perfection. He is a man of great scientific knowledge, which he attempts to use as he devises a plan to rid his wife of her flaw. Him and his assistant, Aminadab, create a concoction for Georgiana to drink that is supposed to dissolve the mark from her cheek. This ultimately fails and ends in her death.
From the start of the story, Hawthorne uses the birthmark as a symbol of humanity’s imperfections to showcase his belief that flaws are a natural occurrence in every living thing. It is described as “…the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her productions, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain” (45). This quote makes it clear that the birthmark represents the sin and flaws of humankind. It also makes it evident to the audience that imperfection is unachievable for humans as their flaws are a key piece of their humanity. Hawthorne makes his feelings even more explicit by having Aylmer state that the mark is “…a symbol of his wife’s liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death” (45). This adds a negative connotation to the birthmark, which is representative of how humanity views flaws. However, Hawthorne is inferring that in reality, they should accept them. A trait of humanity is that everyone has unique flaws. For a human to be flawless, they would essentially lose a piece of their humanity.
Throughout this piece, there is not much explicitly stated about Georgiana besides the fact that she is beautiful and the appearance of her birthmark. It is intriguing that Hawthorne labels her as beautiful without ever giving his audience any details about her features. There is nothing describing her appearance besides that her birthmark is “…in the centre of her left cheek…a singular mark…a tint of deeper crimson…” (43). Georgiana is characterized solely by her visible imperfection. This is often how humanity treats imperfections as well, letting physical flaws consume people’s identities. Hawthorne does this purposefully to emphasis how perfection is impossible, as all humans have flaws, therefore it is unrealistic to strive for perfection. Numerous times throughout the story, he also refers to the birthmark as “…crimson hand…” (63). This is done to show that there is a link between the imperfection and mankind through the shape of the mark being that of a human hand. The mark can be seen as the stamp of humanity on Georgiana. Hawthorne describes the shape of the mark in this way to further his argument that the unique flaw of every human is an essential piece of their humanity. The extensive depiction of the birthmark, its shape, and the lack of description of Georgiana’s appearance is Hawthorne sharing with his audience that they should not strive to fix their imperfections but should accept them since perfection is an unattainable ideal.
When the story ends with Georgiana’s death, neither the audience nor Georgiana are surprised as Hawthorne foreshadows this event throughout the short story. The first instance of this is when Aylmer dreams of “…attempting an operation for the removal of the birthmark; but the deeper went the knife, the deeper sank the hand, until at length its tiny grasp appeared to have caught hold of Georgiana’s heart; whence, however, he was inexorably resolved to cut or wrench it away” (46). By including this sentence, Hawthorne shows that Aylmer is already having thoughts of the dangers of the mark’s removal, yet he does not seem to be particularly bothered by the possible death of his wife. He is so obsessed with the removal of this imperfection that he would go as far as to rip out her heart if he had to. There is also a more implicit meaning to this sentence, it shows that the birthmark, the imperfection, is not just at the surface of Georgiana’s skin, it is a part of her soul. To remove the birthmark would be to kill her, as they are intertwined since all humans have flaws that are not just superficial.
Furthermore, the diction used to describe Georgiana at certain instances in the story also foreshadows her death. Hawthorne uses words that describe a pale complexion to make the reader think of illness and fatality, such as when “…she beheld herself pale as a white rose…” (55), is described as “…a pale ghost” (54), or when Aylmer looks at her mark and it transforms the “…roses of her cheek into a death-like paleness…” (46). These words pale and death-like were chosen to be clues to the audience about what is to come, the death of Georgiana. Hawthorne uses this strategic diction to warn his audience that imperfections are not meant to be removed but embraced. He wants to show his readers that there are consequences for the attempted removal of these imperfections. When humans interfere with the way they were created, there can be negative effects such as illness, death, or injury. These are further signs from the universe that humanity is meant to have these unique flaws.
In addition to diction, the choice to name Aylmer’s assistant Aminadab was a strategic move by Hawthorne to further explain his feelings towards perfection to his audience. Aminadab is a biblical name, and since God is often seen as a voice of reason, leading people to do what is right, this character is expected to do the same. Hawthorne’s audience in the modern day, might not have noticed this allusion. However, his audience in 1876 most likely would have, as this story was intended for that specific time period. Aminadab has only a few lines, but there is one that is crucial to the foreshadowing of Georgiana’s death. Aminadab states, “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark” (50). Here, Hawthorne is further exemplifying that flaws should not be removed. This is obviously the wrong decision, as even this God-like character does not advise Aylmer to go through with his removal of the birthmark. God is often representative of moral reasoning, making it obvious that Aylmer is making the wrong choice by going against Aminadab’s advice. The diction and choice of the name Aminadab in “The Birthmark” act to warn the reader of the negative consequences of meddling with the work of God and nature, denoting that imperfections should be left alone.
Hawthorne has strong feelings towards the idea of humanity striving for perfection as he believes that it is an unattainable feat. He uses the symbolism of Georgiana’s birthmark, the diction while describing her physical features, and the foreshadowing of her death to convey his message to his audience. He believes that if humanity stopped striving for their unrealistic idea of perfection and just accepted their flaws, everyone would be far better off. He hopes that by reading this short story, people realize how unnecessary it is to try to rid themselves of their flaws and stop wasting copious amounts of time and energy doing so.


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