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Aylmer's Hubris in The Birthmark - Essay Example

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John Q. Student Professor Doe English 344 8 May 2000 Aylmer’s Hubris in “The Birthmark” Because of his strict Puritan ancestors, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a man tortured by the sins of his fathers. In the majority of his stories, he presents the dual nature of man, a combination of good and evil, though not always in equal parts…
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Download file to see previous pages The sin can either dominate the character or the character can control it, and the interaction between the characters who can control their sins and those who cannot form the core of Hawthorne’s fiction. In “The Birthmark,” Hawthorne explores this theme in light of humankind’s belief in science. In the characters of Aylmer and Georgiana in “The Birthmark,” Hawthorne presents the man who succumbs to his sins and the woman who controls hers and then falls under her husband’s influence. Aylmer is a man of great hubris, and Hawthorne shows how he succumbs to his sins. Aylmer has dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of science. The unnamed narrator describes Aylmer as having “devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies ever to be weaned from them by any second passion” (Hawthorne). However, this devotion in and of itself is not a sin. Aylmer does not merely devote himself to science but describes himself as being a man of exceptional powers. When his wife, Georgiana, asks him if he has the capability of removing her birthmark, he tells her to “doubt not [his] power” (Hawthorne). He believes that he possesses powers that make him unique. At one point, he conjures a flower for Georgiana, but when she touches it, it immediately dies. Instead of being a great man of science, Aylmer is a failure. As Nina Baym reminds the reader in “The Head, The Heart, and The Unpardonable Sin,” Aylmer’s journals “record only failure” (39). Georgiana even doubts his skills after having read the journals, but she still allows her husband to experiment on her. Aylmer’s unwavering belief that he will succeed in removing the birthmark leads to his wife’s death. This overestimation of his skills creates the tragedy in the story, the death of Georgiana. In the end, he dehumanizes his wife. She becomes merely “another experiment” (Cervo 19). Aylmer’s experimenting on Georgiana he claims to love is likely the result of his sinful hubris. In Hawthorne’s portrayal, Alymer’s greatest sin is not his belief in his own powers but his belief in the power of science. His belief in science represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of humanity. In Aylmer’s mind, science and nature are opposing forces. Science attempts to challenge nature and correct its mistakes, a belief that Hawthorne depicts as overly optimistic and erroneous. For Hawthorne, all men must have at least some flaws, because men are the products of nature. Without these flaws, man loses his humanity. When Aylmer views his wife’s birthmark, he sees a flaw that nature has left on an otherwise perfect being. The narrator describes the birthmark 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” (Hawthorne). Aylmer believes that science can remove the flaw that nature has produced. He describes his scheme to remove Georgiana’s birthmark as having “corrected what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work” (Hawthorne). However, when he succeeds in removing her birthmark, he succeeds in killing her. A human cannot exist without a flaw. In the beginning, Georgiana is the antithesis of Aylmer. She is a character who has but a single flaw and does not succumb to its power. Her chief trait is her naivete and innocence. Her birthmark, ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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