ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Romancing a Mark Upon Thy Cheek - A peek at Nathaniel Hawthorne

Updated on May 23, 2014
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne | Source


Romanticism bled into the literary culture of Early America with its persistence for truth and imagination. This subgenre of literature is often tied together with Transcendentalism which emerged in the mid-1800s with authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller (Baym, Levine et al. 464). Nathaniel Hawthorne, another romantic writer from this era, displayed the genre’s acute demonstration of mystery in his short story, “The Birthmark” through which he interconnects the relationship between science and spirituality. It is a common expression of romantics to link nature and spirit as well as spirit and man in their quest to search beyond the material face of reality. By examining excerpts from Hawthorne’s, “The Birthmark” the true identity of the American Romantic can be brought to the surface.

“…tends to prefer action to character, and action will be freer in a romance than in a novel, encountering, as it were, less resistance from reality”

-Richard Chase

What is a Romantic?

Richard Chase, author of, The American Novel and Its Tradition, states that the romance, “…tends to prefer action to character, and action will be freer in a romance than in a novel, encountering, as it were, less resistance from reality” (qtd. in Campbell 1). Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” is a perfect example of this. In this passage Aylmer, a scientist, is mysteriously painted, creating a vague representation of science interfering with nature; “The latter pursuit, however, Aylmer had long laid aside, in unwilling recognition of the truth, against which all seekers sooner or later stumble, that our great Mother, while she amuses us with apparently working in the broadest sunshine is yet severely careful to keep her own secrets, and, in spite of her pretended openness, shows us nothing but results.” (qtd. in Baym, Levine et al. 648). This technique, using characters as larger representations for reality, is directly related to romanticism. Chase goes on to explain how this literary directly reflects the motives of a romantic; “Being less committed to the immediate rendition of reality than the novel, the romance will more freely veer toward mythic, allegorical, and symbolistic forms.” (qtd. in Campbell 1). Another example of this from “The Birthmark” would be the “Crimson Hand” (qtd. in Baym, Levine et al. 646). The mark Aylmer’s wife bore on her face was shaped like a hand and Aylmer believed it radically reduced her aesthetic. Hawthorne described it as, “the fatal flaw of humanity” (646) which is another perfect example of the symbolism at work.


“Thus ever does the gross Fatality of Earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence, which, in this dim sphere of half-development, demands the completeness of a higher state.”

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wading Deeper

Another aspect of romanticism is character involvement and interaction with other characters. Richard Chase highlights this in an excerpt from, The American Novel and Its Tradition; “Human beings will on the whole be shown in an ideal relation--that is, they will share emotions only after these have become abstract or symbolic. To be sure, characters may become profoundly involved in some way…” (qtd. in Campbell 1). In “The Birthmark” Hawthorne uses Georgiana, Aylmer’s wife, as a representation of a spirit being hindered by worldly ties. Her mark is what separates her from perfection, and once the mark is removed she dies because matter cannot obtain perfection. The relationship between Aylmer and Georgiana is consistently that of a person so close to discovering the truth, just to be shattered by the answer. In this passage, Hawthorne enlightens the reader to this concept; “Thus ever does the gross Fatality of Earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence, which, in this dim sphere of half-development, demands the completeness of a higher state.” (qtd. in Baym, Levine et al. 656). It is possible to view every character from this narrative as a representation of the same system or the same mind searching for answers in reality.


The concluding line of, “The Birthmark” is abstract and beautiful. Hawthorne leaves the reader with this thought; “The momentary circumstance was too strong for him; he failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of Time, and living once for all in Eternity, to find the perfect Future in the present.” (qtd. in Baym, Levine et al. 656). One cannot read this story without coming away with an ignited spark of imagination. Perhaps this is the plan of every romantic; leave the reader thinking.


Works Cited

Chase, Richard. qtd. in Campell, Donna. "Novel, Romance, and Gothic: Brief Definitions." Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University. 2012. Web. 23 May 2014.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Birthmark." The Norton Anthology of AmericanLiterature: Shorter Eighth Edition. Ed. Baym, Nina. Levine, Robert. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013. 464-656. Print.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)