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Literay Analysis of The Birthmark of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Updated on November 13, 2013
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. Here are some examples that show the use of literary devices mentioned in the latter.

  1. I. Ambiguity

Hawthorn’s “The Birthmark” presents the readers a two-way interpretation of character, conflict, theme and etc. It gives a sense of ambiguity which drives the reader to arrive to two or more different meanings.

One area which ambiguity plays in the story is the interpretation of the characters in the story. Georgiana, for example can be viewed as someone who was confident and self-assured with her birthmark but later on became miserable with it after she knew that her husband disliked it. She told her husband "To tell you the truth it has been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so." However, when her husband showed his disappointment to the birthmark she submitted to him on removing it, "Remove it, remove it, whatever be the cost, or we shall both go mad!" Furthermore, Georgiana can also be interpreted in two ways in terms of her perception on drinking the elixir. She drank the elixir that could fade the birthmark because she might want to please her husband and she wanted him to see her perfect in his eyes. On the other hand, Georgiana could also drink the elixir because she wanted to kill herself. In a way of doing that, her husband might realized that “it was the sad confession and continual exemplification of the shortcomings of the composite man, the spirit burdened with clay and working in matter, and of the despair that assails the higher nature at finding itself so miserably thwarted by the earthly part.” She wanted her to realize that all achievements he had done were nothing compared to the works of Nature.

Another ambiguity Hawthorn develops in the story is the presentation of the image of Aylmer. He is a man interpreted as someone who is passionate to his wife and passionate to science. It is stated that “His love for his young wife…his love of science, and uniting the strength of the latter to his own.” Maybe, Aylmer’s love to Georgiana might what drive him to find a mean to remove the birthmark. He was bothered that his wife is not perfect in his sight; and the creation of the elixir would get rid of the flaw which the only thing that makes her imperfect. Furthermore, he also wanted to become a perfect husband to his wife by working something for the perfection of his wife. On the other hand, Aylmer’s love to science is also quite evident. It leads us to think that the reason Aylmer create the elixir is because he wants to prove something what science was capable of. Aylmer said to Georgina, “…you have led me deeper than ever into the heart of science. I feel myself fully competent to render this dear cheek as faultless as its fellow; and then, most beloved, what will be my triumph when I shall have corrected what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work.” It seems that Aylmer view Georgiana’s birthmark as an object of experiment that could make him more known in Science. Besides, at the end of the story Aylmer was happy to see that he was successful in removing the birthmark even his wife was struggling to death.

Lastly, ambiguity is also present in the conflict of the story. It is quite puzzling if the conflict is “Aylmer versus the birthmark” or “Aylmer versus Nature.” Hawthorne draws the reader to closely examine which the character is really into. In the story, Aylmer showed his contempt by saying, “…you came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect…” Aylmer was referring to the birthmark as the defect of the perfect thing Nature had made. Because of his great annoyance to the birthmark, he made something that might eliminate it. However, Aylmer also showed conflict with the Nature. He wanted to alter what Nature had made; thus, driving him to prove that he could play with Nature. Unfortunately, eliminating what Nature gave meant also eliminating life because they were in relationship.

  1. II. Irony

Webster’s dictionary defines irony as a language device in which the real intent is concealed or contradicted by the literal meaning of words or a situation. There are three types of irony- verbal irony, dramatic irony and situational irony. Hawthorne was successful in using this literary device in enhancing the text.

The verbal irony in the story is when Georgiana said that the birthmark is “magical.” It is somewhat ironic because if it is magical, it has a supernatural power. It is something that is admired and one does not want to lose it. However, in the story they wanted to get rid of it. Georgiana once said "Danger? There is but one danger- that this horrible stigma shall be left upon my cheek! ... Remove it, remove it, whatever the cost or we shall both go mad!" It is just ironic because if she considers it as magical she will not agree to remove it.

Another verbal irony is when Aylmer considered his work as of the “sorcerer.” Georgiana was reading his books of accomplishments when Aylmer said to her "It is dangerous to read in a sorcerer's books." Although he was a man of science, he ironically said that it is of the sorcerer. A scientist and a sorcerer are very different with each other. A sorcerer is a person who uses supernatural powers over others through the assistance of spirits. Definitely, it has no scientific analysis unlike a scientist who always clings on scientific explanation.

The situational irony revolves around the elixir. Upon the experimentation of the elixir, Georgiana mentions that "It is so beautiful to the eye that I could imagine it the elixir of life" and Aylmer added that it is “the elixir of immortality.” The two come to believe that the elixir will lead them to the perfection of life or either something that can extend life. However, at the succeeding chapters it finds out that the elixir cut the life of Georgiana. She died after taking it. Different thing happened in contrast to what they were expecting. Instead of making Georgiana attain immortality; it has brought her to death.

Lastly, it seemed that Aylmer was not aware of the consequence of his action of playing with God. He was so obsessed with the success he had in removing the birthmark that he did not notice that the result of his action is the taking back of the life of his wife. Moreover, what is ironic in the story is the blindness of Aylmer to the true meaning of life. He was blinded of his pride that he made Georgiana’s life miserable. Because of his desire to remove the imperfection from his wife or he just wanted to prove what he was capable of, he did not notice that he was already ruining the life of his wife. Aylmer struggled to make his wife happy by making her perfect. Unfortunately, it did not lead to happiness but only guilt and regrets of the consequences of one’s action.


  1. III. Paradox

Paradox is also one of the literary devices present in “The Birthmark.” It is a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth as defined by Dictionary.com.

What is paradox in the story is when Aylmer said to his wife regarding the elixir that “…the elixir of immortality. It is the most precious poison that ever was concocted in this world.” Georgiana also once said "… but it will be on the same principle that would induce me to take a dose of poison if offered by your hand." The elixir is not really poisonous. Aylmer won’t let Georgiana take it if it is because he loves his wife. In fact, Aylmer made it to remove the birthmark in Georgiana’s cheek which he considered an imperfection of the Nature’s work. He made it to make his wife perfect. Perhaps, Aylmer and Georgiana did not really mean to say it is poisonous. They just wanted to say something absurd. However, in the end we found out that the elixir was really a poison. It ends up Georgiana’s life after taking it. The elixir had caused her death.

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      anonymous 20 months ago

      ugh I hate this essay I have to do for this story but I love this story either way

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 3 months ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      I remember reading the story Janina. I thinks it's one of Hawthorne's most unusual stories. It seems cruel to a certain degree. Maybe Hawthorne wanted us to be more accepting of each others imperfections.

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