A Mark of Mortality


“…but, seeing her otherwise so perfect, he found this one defect grow more and more intolerable with every moment of their untied lives. It was 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. The crimson hand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould… In this manner, selecting it as a symbol of his wife’s liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death. Aylmer’s somber imagination was not long in rendering the birthmark a frightful object, causing him more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana’s beauty, whether of soul or sense, had given him delight.” Pg. 292

I chose this passage because I believe it is a window into not only the surface symbolism it provide through its own explanation, but as well as deeper, more veiled issue occurring within Aylmer. Stylistically, this passage’s connection between Georgiana’s birthmark and the mortality of humanity kick start our understanding of the deeper meaning of the story. I also think that this passage is written so beautifully, as it employs intensely descriptive vocabulary as well as symbolically meaningful text. Individually, I think it its clear, through the narrator’s outright explanation, that this passage connects Georgia’s flaw with the flaw of life; mortality. However as a small part of a larger story, I think that by linking Georgiana’s mark to life’s temporary nature the passage then leads us deeper and encourages us to connect Aylmer’s fear of physical imperfection with his fear of death.

Georgiana’s birthmark not only represents superficial obsession with perfection, but a more symbolic concealment of Aylmer’s intense fear of death. On a surface level of interpretation, it is clear that the theme of perfectionism runs its course through out this story. While Georgiana is woman of great beauty, her single modest, physical flaw becomes the object of Almer’s fixation. He sees her flaw as a “visible mark of earthly imperfection” and feels as though this “defect” ruins her beauty. He fails to appreciate the internal beauty of his wife, and instead focuses purely on the physical attributes of Georgiana, rather than her inner self and her deep love for him. His addiction to seeking perfection for his wife blinds him from all the good she embodies and offers. His obsession with perfection is foolish and ultimately undermines him, as his accomplishment of flawlessness, or the riddance of his wife’s birthmark, ends up killing her. The passage emphasizes the notion that perfection doesn’t exist, and so when Georgiana’s birthmark disappears and his wife is made perfect, so too does her spirit disappear, as we see that when the “sole token of human imperfect faded form her cheek, the parting breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere, and her soul, lingering a moment near her husband, took its heavenly flight.”

However, Aylmer’s concentration on Georgiana’s blemish is deeper than his foolish desire for unachievable perfection. As written in the quote above, Aylmer himself acknowledges that the birthmark was the “fatal flaw of humanity” as well the “gripe of mortality.” Here we see that Aylmer understands that imperfection symbolizes mortality; he spells this out for us. However, if we go deeper, we realize his deep fear of death. Because Aylmer sees mortality in such a visual form, it becomes the object of his attention about his wife. It scares him to see a physical reminder of mortality, especially one on someone he loves so deeply. It is made clear in the story that “he found this one defect grow more and more intolerable with every moment of their united lives.” The more days that passed during their marriage, the more he noticed and feared her mark. The more time he spent falling in love with this wife, the scarier it became for him to realize that one day the love of his life would die. Therefore, his obsession with ridding his wife of the birthmark was deeper than his search for physical perfection, but instead was a search for immortality. We are told that he believed he could make a “potion” that would enable eternal life, but really, we see that his fascination with immortality is reflected in his fascination with his wife’s birthmark. His fear of death manifests itself into the birthmark on his wife’s cheek. Therefore, in Aylmer’s mind, if he can defeat his wife’s flaw, he can defeat death.

I chose this passage because, after reading and analyzing the story, I personally thought the main essence and meaning of the story was to discover that Aylmer is not so much afraid of the birthmark on his wife’s cheek, which he understands symbolizes the temporary nature of life, but instead the deeper reality and inevitability of death.

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