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'The Birthmark' by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Summary and Analysis

Shruti Bhat May 13, 2019
'The Birthmark' by Nathaniel Hawthorne is the story of an obsession for human perfection. It speaks of issues that are not just skin-deep.

Did You Know?

Hawthorne was a newlywed when he wrote The Birthmark.
Nathaniel Hawthorne published "The Birthmark" in the The Pioneer in 1843. He also happens to be the author of the famous story called, "The Scarlet Letter".
The story instantly fell into the genre of dark romanticism. It revolves around a husband's unhealthy obsession over getting rid of his wife's facial birthmark. In the process of making her "perfect". He begins to play God and tampers around with his scientific experiments, to achieve perfection at the cost of his wife's life.

Summary and Analysis

The narrator informs us (the readers) that the story takes place in the late 1700s. He introduces us to a scientist and philosopher called Aylmer who has stopped his work for a while to marry a beautiful woman called Georgiana.
Georgiana is not just beautiful but next-to-perfect (physically), except for a little red hand-shaped birthmark on her left cheek. This mark is prominent when she is pale but disappears when she blushes.
Other women have claimed it to be a blemish on her otherwise flawless beauty. Her previous suitors have wished to risk their lives to kiss it and believe that it made her even more attractive.
Soon after their marriage, Aylmer begins to get unnaturally obsessive over the birthmark. He is so possessed by it that he dreams of it one night. A few days later, Georgiana informs him that he was talking in his sleep and saying, "It is in her heart now; we must have it out!.
Aylmer tells her that he had dreamed that he removed the birthmark, which ran beyond her skin and went deep down to her heart, which he decided to cut out. Georgiana is horrified and hurt. She begins to feel unloved and imperfect, so much, that she is willing to risk everything to get the birthmark erased.
The next day, Aylmer takes her to an apartment where he has his little laboratory. Looking at her husband's excitement, Georgiana gets paler than she usually is, making her birthmark even more prominent.
Aylmer looks shuddered. Seeing her husband's reaction, Georgiana faints. Aminadab, Aylmer's assistant, comes out to assist in shifting unconscious Georgiana to another room.
Georgiana wakes up in a sweet-smelling room decorated for her. Aylmer comforts her warmly. He entertains her by showing her some scenes, and gives her a fast-growing flower which dies as soon as she touches it. He moves on to taking her picture in a special way. But when the picture is ready, it prominently shows her birthmark, and so he throws it into acid.
In between his experiments, Aylmer explains to Georgiana that he believes he could turn metal into gold. He also introduces her to a cabinet full of vials with powerful perfumes and poisons. He informs her of a particular poison that depending on the dosage, can kill someone instantly or over a period of time.
Georgiana is appalled, just thinking about such a thing. He shows her another potion that can erase out any freckles, but he believes her scar will need a much deeper cure. Georgiana begins to suspect Aylmer's intentions and believes he might have been experimenting on her through food or perfumes, without her consent.
She begins reading a journal of his experiments and is amazed by the accounts of his study. She also realizes that he had always failed at his goals. Understanding this, she begins to cry. Aylmer finds her crying and consoles her. He asks her to sing for him to raise his spirits, which he readily does. He then returns to his laboratory.
Aylmer returns with a potion for Georgiana to drink. He puts a few drops of concoctions into the soil of a plant with yellow blotches on the leaves. The blotches begin to disappear. Georgiana confesses that she needed no demonstrations as she trusted him. She willingly drinks it.
Georgiana drinks the potion and sleeps. Aylmer sits by her, recording every detail about her. He is still disgusted by her birthmark. The experiment unfolds and the mark gradually fades away. He however notes that his wife looks extremely pale.
Aylmer and Aminadab rejoice at the sight of the mark disappearing. Georgiana is awakened. She takes a look in the mirror and smiles. She turns to her husband and informs him that she's dying as the birthmark fades away. And she dies.


The birthmark symbolizes mortality and imperfection. Georgiana is human and thus flawed with that little mark on her left cheek. In a way, it also symbolizes death, as there is perfection only in death. Therefore when the mark leaves her skin, she leaves this world.
The birthmark's color and shape are quite poetically added to the story. The hand shape represents the hand of the creator (God) and also 'connection' as in holding of hands and being together. The connection is broken along with her birthmark and subsequent death.
Even otherwise if she had miraculously survived, their marriage would have lost the love at least from her side, as she was forced to change because he couldn't bear a minor imperfection in her.
The story, 'The Birthmark' by Nathaniel Hawthorne gives us a message to accept life as it is-flawed.