“The fatal hand had grappled with the mystery of life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in union with a mortal frame. As the last crimson tint of the birthmark–that sole token of human imperfection–faded from 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 heavenward flight” (Hawthorne 301).
In the short story, The Birth-Mark, Nathaniel Hawthorne successfully makes a critique on the human quest for perfection and the impossible nature of it. In this final passage of the story, Hawthorne describes Georgiana’s birth-mark as a “bond by which angelic spirit kept itself in union with a mortal frame” and calls it her “sole token of human imperfection” (Hawthorne 301). By equating Georgiana’s one flaw with mortality, Hawthorne shows that he believes perfectionism is something that cannot be attained by any mortal being. He further proves this belief by having Georgiana’s character-“the now perfect woman”- die when the birth-mark is eventually removed. This final passage and the resolution of the story reflect the overarching theme of the entire short story: perfection is not obtainable, and any obsession with trying to do so will only lead to downfall.
Another major theme of The Birth-Mark is the idea that embracing others’ flaws is an important part of human existence. Twice in the story, we see examples of men who accept Georgiana’s flaw; Hawthorne describes her many admirers and says “many a desperate swain would have risked life for the privilege of pressing his lips to the mysterious hand” (Hawthorne 291). This idea is highlighted again, later in the story, when we see Aminadab question Aylmer’s motives about removing his wife’s birthmark. Aminadab says, “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birth-mark” (Hawthorne 294). Hawthorne drops these small hints throughout the story to show his own personal belief: that accepting flaws is not only important, but also necessary, because every human-being has imperfections. Hawthorne’s beliefs are clearly unparalleled with those of Aylmer.
Another important critique Hawthorne makes in The Birth-Mark regards the unkind nature of women; a short comment he makes in the story suggests that women are much more critical than men. He describes how some men would risk their lives to kiss the birth-mark on Georgiana’s cheek, but is then quick to add that not everyone agrees with this. “Some fastidious persons–but they were exclusively of her own sex–affirmed that the bloody hand, as they chose to call it, quite destroyed the effect of Georgiana’s beauty, and rendered her countenance even hideous” (Hawthorne 291). I found this particularly interesting, because this story was written in 1843, but I can still see the relevance of this idea today.
The final part of the story I want to comment on- and the part I found most interesting- is the comparison Hawthorne makes between three different types of people: those who are unaccepting of human flaw and determined to achieve perfection (Aylmer), those who tolerate the flaws and are accepting of the fact that no one is perfect (Georgiana herself), and, finally, those who see the beauty in the imperfections of a person (Georgiana’s many admirers). My favorite “characters” of the story are the unnamed men who thought Georgiana’s birth-mark was not only tolerable, but that it actually made her more appealing. The birth-mark “heighten[ed] their admiration” (Hawthorne 292) of Georgiana, and I think that is the essence of the story. Flaws should not be pointed out or gotten rid of, nor should they be merely accepted or tolerated. They should be seen as beautiful; to others and to ourselves.