The birthmark symbols

The birthmark symbols DEFAULT

The Birthmark

The story revolves around the small, pink, hand-shaped birthmark on Georgiana’s cheek. This symbol can be interpreted in a few different ways, which can all work simultaneously.

In one sense, Aylmer sees the birthmark…

read analysis of The Birthmark
The Birthmark Symbol Icon


Aylmer twice uses plants to demonstrate scientific points, and in both instances they represent Georgiana herself and foreshadow the effect of the experiment on her. Aylmer shows Georgiana a plant that grows and flowers before…

read analysis of Plants
Plants Symbol Icon


In this story, sunlight represents nature and its influence. Aylmer lights his laboratory with chemical lamps and does not allow sunlight in, which demonstrates his worship of science and scorn of nature’s power. At the…

read analysis of Sunlight
Sunlight Symbol Icon

There have been many writers who have astonished the literary world with their configuration of short stories, but none of them have perfected the art as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne wrote in a time period when Fredrick Douglas was paving the road to racial freedom, Ralph Waldo Emerson wanted to world to be seen through the transparent eyeball, and Henry David Thoreau was living the unfettered life. In comparison to the modern writings of his time, Hawthornes style was viewed as outdated; nonetheless, Hawthorne addressed modern issues in the symbols and themes of his stories.

Through the use of symbols and themes, the short story, The Birthmark, is the best example of Hawthorne representing modern issues. Through his use of symbolism, Hawthorne addresses the issue of the fatal flaw of humanity that nature imposes upon everyone. He addresses the issue of man manipulating nature through the theme of the story. While some might have viewed Hawthornes writing style as outdated, he focused on issues that are modern and contemporary to his time. The modern issue of mans ability to manipulate nature, and the results of that manipulation, is seen in a scientists obsession with perfecting nature.

Through husbands obsession with perfecting his wife, Hawthorne conveys the modern issue of mans ability to control nature. The central characters in Hawthornes story, The Birthmark, are Aylmer and Georgiana. Aylmer and Georgina are in love, yet there is a twist to the love that Aylmer possess for his wife. Georgina is perfect in every way, except for one tiny flaw on her cheek. Nature has imposed upon her a tiny red birthmark, which is the obstacle in the love that Aylmer has for Georgiana. As a scientist, Aylmer is obsessed with the act of manipulating nature, this obsession is blossomed with the imperfection that Georgiana posses.

Seeing her otherwise so perfect, he found this one defect grow more and more intolerable with every moment of their united lives (2226). Aylmer cannot stand the thought of a creature being virtually perfect that he must find a way to rid Georgiana of her birthmark. No dearest Georgiana, you came so near perfect form the hands of Nature that this slightest possible defect-which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty-shocks me as being the visible mark of earthy imperfection (2225).

Aylmers obsession with Georgianas earthly imperfection leads to the eventual downfall of both of them. Aylmer finds the cure for his wifes one flaw and administers the potion to her. The administering of this potion provides the power and ability to control and change nature. The crimson hand, which at first has been strongly visible upon the marble paleness of Georgianas cheek, now grew more faintly outlined. She remained not less pale then ever; but the birthmark, with every breath that came and went lost somewhat of its former distinctness (2235).

With the inhaling and exhaling of every breath that Georgiana took, not only did the birthmark fade, but also so did the life within her. Aylmers obsession with manipulating nature was the eventual downfall of his true love. Hawthorne shows the reader the modern issue that nature will always win in the end. Man may have the ability to manipulate nature, but man will never come out as the victor. Hawthorne not only conveys modern issues through the theme of his story, but he also uses symbols to express contemporary issues.

The most important symbol in, The Birthmark, that shows modern thought is the birthmark on Georgianas cheek. Georgiana exceptional closeness to perfection is undermined by the mark on her cheek. This mark symbolizes the fatal flaw that all of natures creatures posses. It was the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature, in one way or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her production, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain (2226). Nothing and no one is perfect. Perfection is a dream that Aylmer tries to make reality.

The birthmark represents Georgianas ability to be mortal and sin. Aylmer ultimately rids Georgiana of the ability to be immortal and therefore she dies. In symbolizing the birthmark as the fatal flaw of humanity, Hawthorne is illustrating the modern issue that not even nature is perfect, and all the creatures from nature cannot be faultless. The birthmark has references to life, death, beauty, and disgust all of which are fatal flaws that nature imposes on her creations. Another symbol that shows modern issues in Hawthornes writing is Georgiana herself.

Georgianas pure faith symbolizes the modern issue of men controlling women. Aylmer is not only trying to manipulate and dominate nature, but he is trying to control Georgiana. These questions had such a particular drift that Georgiana began to conjecture that she was already subjected to certain physical influences, either breathed in with the fragrant air or taken with her food (2231). Without his wifes knowledge, Aylmer manipulates Georgiana with outside influences, which will eventually free them of the crimson hand that has plagued their lives.

Hawthorne plays with the contemporary issue of mans need to dominate women. Riding her of the birthmark allows Aylmer to dominate his wife. Hawthorne also uses this theme in the story, Rappaccinis Daughter. Rappaccinis father and Aylmer use their women as experiments. The women in their lives are no longer a human being but a specimen to be studied and controlled. The style of Hawthornes writing has been deemed as outdated by some literary critics, but if they would look deeper they would find a mind filled with contemporary thoughts.

These thoughts are most significantly conveyed in his short story, The Birthmark. Through the use of symbols, Hawthorne addresses the issues of mans fatal flaw from the hands nature, while he uses the theme of his story to make aware that nature cannot be manipulated. Unlike Thoreau, Hawthorne wanted people to realize that nature is not perfect and should not be used as a channel for spirituality. What they could agree on that nature should not be manipulated and controlled.

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"The Birthmark" Themes and Symbols

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for The Birthmark

Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text.

As a classroom activity, students can track the rich symbolic writing Hawthorne uses throughout “The Birthmark”. In the example storyboard above, the creator has focused on Hawthorne's use of Puritan ideology through symbols and themes in "The Birthmark".

Symbols and Themes to Discuss


Throughout the story, the theme of imperfection is implied in multiple ways. First, imperfection is suggested with Georgiana’s birthmark, then later with Aylmer’s journal entries about his not-so-perfect experiments. Finally, in the end when Georgiana dies as a result of the quest for perfection, it is found that there is no such thing.

SCIENCE: Man’s Pursuit for Knowledge

Within literature, a universal theme is man's pursuit for scientific advancement and knowledge and its effects. In the story of “The Birthmark”, Aylmer's quest to rid his wife of her imperfection through science shows the reader how naive and narrow-minded man can be. Just because someone has the power or knowledge to do something doesn’t always mean it should be done.

BIRTHMARK: The Crimson Stain

The birthmark is a symbol of man’s imperfection or flaw - which also symbolizes man’s mortality. Looking at the story from a Puritan perspective, the birthmark could be an allegorical symbol relating to man’s fall from Eden. The allusion is that Alymer looks at Georgian as being almost perfect, without the birthmark she would be the epitome of Godly perfection. From the Christian perspective, all men are made in the image of God; however, after Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, man was inevitably flawed. The birthmark is a concrete symbol of this flaw.

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in "The Birthmark". Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from "The Birthmark" you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for the example(s) that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 9-10

Difficulty Level 4 (Difficult / Complex)

Type of Assignment Individual, Partner, or Group

Type of Activity:Themes, Symbols & Motifs

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/2] Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/5] Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/10] By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

    By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, symbols, and/or motifs in the story. Illustrate instances of each and write a short description that explains the example's significance.

Proficient Emerging Beginning Needs Improvement

All themes are correctly identified as important recurring topics or messages in the story. Symbols are correctly identified as objects that represent something else at a higher level in the story. Motifs are correctly identified as important recurring features or ideas in the story.

Most themes are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete. Most symbols are correctly identified, but some objects are missing or incomplete. Some motifs are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete.

Most themes are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most symbols are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most motifs are missing, incomplete, or incorrect.

No themes, symbols, or motifs are correctly identified.

Quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) and highlight their significance to the story.

Most quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motifs that are being identified. Descriptions mostly accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s), and highlight their significance to the story.

Most quotes and examples are minimal, incorrect, or unrelated to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions contain inaccuracies in their explanations, or do not highlight their significance to the story.

Examples and descriptions are missing or too minimal to score.

Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are accurate to the story and reflect time, effort, thought, and care with regard to placement and creation of the scenes.

Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are mostly accurate to the story. They reflect time and effort put into placement and creation of the scenes.

Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are inaccurate to the story. The depictions may be rushed or show minimal effort, time, and care put into placement and creation of the scenes.

Most depictions are missing too many elements or are too minimal to score. Little time or effort has been put into placement and creation of the scenes.

There are no errors in spelling, grammar, or mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions reflect careful proofreading and accuracy to the story.

There are a few errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions show accuracy to the story and some proofreading.

There are several errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. Most writing portions do not reflect proofreading or accuracy to the story.

Errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics in writing portions of the storyboard seriously interfere with communication.

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Lecture: Hawthorne's \

In addition to being a critical plot device, Georgiana’s hand-shaped, pink birthmark is the story’s most thematically rich symbol. Because the birthmark is Georgiana’s singular physical blemish, Aylmer considers it a “sole token of human imperfection” (Hawthorne 165). In other words, even though Georgiana comes close to perfection, she still has her birthmark, and thereby retains her status as a flawed, mortal human. Once the birthmark fades, Georgiana dies, because she is too perfect to occupy a world of humans. Through Georgiana’s death, Hawthorne urges us to do what Aylmer was unable to do—accept humanity’s intrinsic shortcomings, whether physical or spiritual.

Because the birthmark symbolizes “the fatal flaw of humanity,” it also symbolizes mortality by extension (153). The birthmark is an implicit reminder of every human’s limited lifespan, which is imposed by the incomprehensible forces of Nature. The birthmark, therefore, functions as a source of anxiety for Aylmer (who fears death and its equal degradation of all humans) because almost-perfect humans like Georgiana will endure the same fate as everyone else.

As one of the most prevalent motifs in “The Birth-Mark,” perfume constantly evokes the stimulated perfection pervading Aylmer’s laboratory and experiments. By its nature, perfume uses artifice to make an environment more appealing to our senses. Throughout the story, Aylmer uses fragrance and perfumes to pleasure and relax Georgiana, as well as to disguise the sinister undertones of his experiments. Aylmer supplies Georgiana’s room with a potent fragrance and perfumed lamps. When presenting his creations to Georgiana, he shows her a powerful fragrance “capable of impregnating all the breezes that blow across a kingdom” (159). As Georgiana drinks the liquid at the climax of the story, Aylmer notes its perfection, and Georgiana praises its fragrance. All of Aylmer’s perfumed creations act as masks of perfection that hide his mistakes and sins. Through this motif, then, Hawthorne critiques the immoral use of science to suppress truths and alter the natural conditions of the world.

Aylmer’s journals, which contain the details of all his experiments, represent natural human inadequacy. Aylmer presents himself to Georgiana as a brilliant scientist obsessed with perfection; he veils his humanity and faults from her. After reading Aylmer’s journals and learning about the many failures of his experiments, Georgiana begins to realize that Aylmer, indeed, is a person who makes mistakes—which only makes her love him even more profoundly. As a celebration and documentation of human humility, the journal allows Aylmer to emerge as a more sympathetic, modest character.

Hawthorne’s plot not only guides us through the physical happenings of the story, but also into Aylmer’s subconscious. Before he begins the experiment, he dreams of removing Georgiana's birthmark. In the dream, as he cuts deeper into Georgiana's skin, the birthmark clings ever-closer to her heart. The dream is an allegory for Aylmer's increasing repulsion toward the birthmark and, in turn, human imperfection. From the dream, we know that his conscious feelings toward the birthmark have penetrated his subconscious mind, suggesting a new level of his obsession.

Because Aylmer cannot remove the birthmark without also cutting out Georgiana's heart, the dream also signifies how Georgiana's imperfections—specifically, her birthmark—are inextricable from her very being. In other words, flaws are natural and intrinsic to humans, and it is thus unwise for Aylmer to chase perfection so rigorously.

Aylmer often uses plants to show off his scientific creations to Georgiana. He presents her with dirt that rapidly grows into a flower, and when he tells her to pick one of its petals, the plant dies instantly. Later, when Aylmer wants to prove the perfection of his cure for Georgiana's birthmark, he pours the liquid over a discolored geranium, and the spots fade.

In these instances, plants become a symbolic product of Nature controlled by science. Aylmer tampers with the natural conditions of plants, which mirrors his own treatment of Georgiana. Like the plants, Georgiana is one of Nature’s creations who becomes one of Aylmer’s subjects. In fact, Aylmer’s experiments foreshadow Georgiana’s fate. The flower dies due to Aylmer’s control, just as Georgiana does; the diseased geranium's blotches disappear, just as Georgiana’s birthmark does. Through the similarities between Georgiana and the flowers' ill-fated narrative arcs, Hawthorne critiques science’s overambitious attempts to interfere with the natural world.


Birthmark symbols the

Symbolism In The Birthmark By Nathaniel Hawthorne

824 Words4 Pages

Symbolism in “The Birthmark” In “The Birthmark” Nathaniel Hawthorne gives us a story that is telling us on some level to accept your own, as well as other people's imperfections or it could destroy not only your relationship with them, but also your relationship with yourself. In this story Hawthorne uses symbolism to show us exactly how this kind of behavior can lead to not just ruining relationships, but in this case even death. In “The Birthmark” Hawthorne uses a wide variety of objects and people such as a withering flower, a birthmark, poison, Aylmer's dream and Georgiana's death, and even a character named Aminidab to symbolize that nobody is in fact perfect and we all must accept each others flaws in order to have good and healthy relationships. The first and most important use of symbolism we receive is that of the birthmark. We learn that, “in the centre of Georgians's left cheek, there was a singular mark, deeply interwoven, as it were, with the texture and substance of her face” (205). Upon further reading Hawthorne tells us that, “Its shape bore not a little similarity to the human hand” (205). Georgiana had a birthmark right in the middle of her left cheek that resembled a tiny hand in which Aylmer thought was very imperfect. The birthmark symbolizes mortality or an imperfection of…show more content…
He provides the story with a character that identifies contrast between the others. He is Aylmer's assistant although we tend to get the impression that he may actually be smarter than Aylmer in a way. As he realizes that Aylmer has killed Georgiana, he begins to laugh. He believes that Aylmer has simply got what was coming to him. He warned him that she already is perfect and says, “If she were my wife, I'd never part with that birthmark”(208). He sees her as perfect as she already is. He sort of symbolizes how we should view others and find perfection in people's

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Lecture: Hawthorne's \

The Birthmark Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

The Birthmark

Hawthorne makes it clear to his readers that the birthmark is a symbol, mostly by telling us that it is a symbol. Check it out:

The crimson hand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visible frames return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as the symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death. (8)

OK, so the birthmark represents Georgiana's humanity, which Hawthorne indicates is equivalent to representing her flaws. It is man's nature to be mortal and imperfect, he argues in this story – that's just what it means to be a human.

What does it mean, then, that Aylmer wants to remove the birthmark from his wife's face? On a literal level, he wants to take off what he considers to be an unattractive birthmark. But on a symbolic level, he wants to rid Georgiana of her flaws. He wants to make her perfect. Ironically, Aylmer succeeds – we'll talk about how he succeeds and where he fails in "What's Up with the Ending?"

For now, let's get back to this birthmark, and take a closer look at its physical appearance on Georgiana:

To explain this conversation it must be mentioned that in the centre of Georgiana's left cheek there was a singular mark, deeply interwoven, as it were, with the texture and substance of her face. In the usual state of her complexion — a healthy though delicate bloom — the mark wore a tint of deeper crimson, which imperfectly defined its shape amid the surrounding rosiness. When she blushed it gradually became more indistinct, and finally vanished amid the triumphant rush of blood that bathed the whole cheek with its brilliant glow. But if any shifting motion caused her to turn pale there was the mark again, a crimson stain upon the snow, in what Aylmer sometimes deemed an almost fearful distinctness. Its shape bore not a little similarity to the human hand. (7)

There's a lot going on in this paragraph. First, we note that the birthmark is "deeply interwoven" with Georgiana's countenance, which means symbolically that man's flaws and very much a part of his character and in fact cannot be separated out. It's also foreshadowing as to the story's ending; we know from the start that Aylmer is a fool to think he can rid her of something so deeply engrained in her face (literally) and character (symbolically).

Next, we note that the birthmark's visibility shifts with the changing color of Georgiana's face. Whether she's pale or flushed determines how much the birthmark shows. We also note that the birthmark is red – the color of blood, and the color of passion. One interpretation of this story is that the birthmark represents Georgiana's sexuality. Aylmer, uncomfortable with his wife's sexual power, wants to remove it to keep himself in control. There are lots of interesting articles to read along this vein, some more left field than others. For example, in "Speaking of the Unspeakable: Hawthorne's 'The Birthmark,'" Jules Zanger argues that the birthmark is actually about the menstrual cycle!

Moving on, let's talk about the shape of the birthmark. Hawthorne tells us that resembles a tiny hand. This is such an interesting line in a few different ways. First, the fact of a hand on Georgiana's face immediately makes us think of the hand of God – as though her maker touched her personally while crafting her apparently very beautiful face. But Hawthorne complicates the idea by specifying that it was the shape of a human hand – it is simultaneously the mark of Georgiana's humanity and mortality.

Looks like we've covered the major bases here – be sure to check out "What's Up with the Ending?" for more on the birthmark as a symbol.

The Laboratory and Boudoir

Never have two settings been more different than the laboratory and neighboring boudoir in "The Birthmark." Let's take a look at the text:

she found herself breathing an atmosphere of penetrating fragrance […] The scene around her looked like enchantment. Aylmer had converted those smoky, dingy, sombre rooms, where he had spent his brightest years in recondite pursuits, into a series of beautiful apartments not unfit to be the secluded abode of a lovely woman. The walls were hung with gorgeous curtains, which imparted the combination of grandeur and grace that no other species of adornment can achieve; and as they fell from the ceiling to the floor, their rich and ponderous folds, concealing all angles and straight lines, appeared to shut in the scene from infinite space. For aught Georgiana knew, it might be a pavilion among the clouds. And Aylmer, excluding the sunshine, which would have interfered with his chemical processes, had supplied its place with perfumed lamps, emitting flames of various hue, but all uniting in a soft, impurpled radiance. (29)


The first thing that struck her eye was the furnace, that hot and feverish worker, with the intense glow of its fire, which by the quantities of soot clustered above it seemed to have been burning for ages. There was a distilling apparatus in full operation. Around the room were retorts, tubes, cylinders, crucibles, and other apparatus of chemical research. An electrical machine stood ready for immediate use. The atmosphere felt oppressively close, and was tainted with gaseous odors which had been tormented forth by the processes of science. The severe and homely simplicity of the apartment, with its naked walls and brick pavement, looked strange, accustomed as Georgiana had become to the fantastic elegance of her boudoir. (57)

Not only do the physical details of each room scream "contrast," but, more importantly, the mood or atmosphere of the two rooms is completely opposite. The boudoir, we see, is the realm of the spiritual – freed from the earth and from all humanly imperfections. But the lab is just the opposite; it reeks of earthy smells and is literally smudged with soot. The boudoir is the dwelling place of all Aylmer's lofty, spiritual aspirations – everything he wants to accomplish as a scientist. But the lab stinks of his failures, of the reminders that he is mortal and cannot compete with Nature on a scientific scale.

There's also a bit of male/female dichotomy going on here; the boudoir is meant for Georgiana, the woman, while the lab is where the men work. It is significant that Aylmer puts his wife in the boudoir and doesn't want her to leave, imagining that he can "draw a magic circle round her which no evil might intrude" (29). This attempt to shelter Georgiana is both misguided and impossible; just as his attempts to remove the birthmark are really an attempt to remove her humanity, so Aylmer's desire to shelter her from evil is a desire to shelter her from her own humanity.

It is also significant that the lab room and the boudoir are right next to each other, separated only by a wall. In their "Character Analyses," we talk about Aylmer and Aminadab as representative of the two poles of man's nature – one half spiritual, the other half earthly. The two rooms basically represent these two different aspects of man's character. They could not be more different, but yet they are forced to coexist in close proximity.

Aylmer's Dream

Aylmer's dream is a classic case of literary foreshadowing. It's also Hawthorne's way of driving home his point about the futility of separating human imperfections from our very humanity (see "What's Up with the Ending?"). Aylmer dreams that he tries to cut away his wife's birthmark. This, of course, anticipates the procedure Aylmer will attempt at the end of the narrative. In the dream he fanatically continues his attempts at removal, even at the danger of losing his wife's life. This, too, is the case at the end of the story. The heavy symbolism comes in when Aylmer sees in his dream that the birthmark goes deep, eventually settling in Georgiana's heart. Remember that the birthmark symbolizes human flaws. This is to say that Georgiana's imperfections are a very much part of her being – it would be foolish for Aylmer to imagine that he could cut them away without destroying her. As we learned in the initial description of the birthmark, it is "deeply interwoven" with Georgiana's face.

That Aylmer's dream essentially tells him what's going to happen, and that he goes forward with it anyway, raises interesting questions about Aylmer's level of self-deception in the tale. On some level, he must know that his wife is going to die; the only question is whether he recognizes this consciously and/or subconsciously when he goes forward with his experiment anyway.


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