As in the case with many other works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Birthmark” does not take place in his own time, but rather in the past century (although unlike in other works such as The Scarlet Letter or The Minister’s Black Veil, not in the Puritan period). The main character in this short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Aylmer, is described in the beginning as a man who is a great scientist and lover nature but who also has a beautiful wife whom he loves dearly. However, despite the amount of love Aylmer has for his wife in “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the significance of the title is clear as wonders at the beginning of the story whether or not the birthmark, which is, interestingly, in the shape of a small red hand, she has on her cheek can be removed. To Alymer, his wife is perfection personified but this birthmark gives him extreme consternation and, being a man of science, he wishes to remove it. In soothing his wife, Georgiana, he says in one of the important quotes from “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “you came so nearly perfect from the hand 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 earthly perfection” (Hawthorne 1022). Her birthmark, in other words, is, especially to a man so absorbed in thinking about Nature, perfection, and the ability to tamper with and change what nature intended, a sign that even nature’s beauty in a woman can be flawed and begs for correction (at least in Aylmer’s mind, it seems at this point).
After this first section of “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and the introduction of our main character as a man of science and his wife as a woman of great beauty with one small imperfection, the story must backtrack and explain that while the birthmark might be bothersome to her husband, Georgiana is nonetheless a great beauty and she was greatly desired by many men, several of whom viewed her birthmark not as a sign of her imperfection or flaws, but a kiss from an angel or a fairy marking. While she was not too perturbed by the marking at the beginning, as her husband’s insistence about possible correction of the dreadful birth mark grows, she too begins to hate it more than ever, especially as she notices him recoiling anytime she grows pale or flushed enough to see it vividly.
As the narrator of “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne continues to unravel the story (with, it must be added here, a great deal of wordiness—even for Hawthorne and explanations about the scientific mindset of his main character Aylmer) the narrative shifts to some degree to more dialogue as Georgiana asks her husband about what his dream was nights before. With some hesitation he tells her about the dream, which he explained in one of the important quotes from “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “He had fancied himself with his servant Aminadab, attempting an operation for the removal of the birthmark; but the deeper went the knife, the deeper sank the hand, until at length its tiny grasp appeared to have caught hold of Georgiana’s heart; whence, however, her husband was inexorably resolved to cut or wrench it away.” Here, in an obvious move toward foreshadowing, he is basically revealing, through the dream sequence, that by attempting to mess with nature’s plan or even Nature’s way of creating beauty, he can only destroy or create imperfection. The significance of Aylmer’s dream in “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne cannot be underestimated. By manipulating her “heart” which is symbolically linked to her birthmark (since there are numerous fears she expresses about how her heart and her hand shaped birthmark are linked) he is tempting fate. For those who know the ending of “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, it is clear the ways in which this dream sequence acts as foreshadowing in “The Birthmark” for the conclusion of the short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nonetheless, after Aylmer tells his wife of his dream (and he is said to have a guilty feeling afterwards—thus hinting he knows there is something wrong with his desire to remove the birth mark) and she agrees that no matter what the cost (she worships her husband and wants to make him happy) she will allow him to attempt to remove it, even if her life is the price.
At this point in the short story “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, plans are underway in Aylmer’s mind to move forward with the removal of the birthmark. As this short summary of “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne will note later in the analysis, his wife is experiencing some apprehension but nonetheless moves forward and complies, if only because she is completely devoted to him. At this point the odd character of Aminadab enters, who is the assistant to his master and helps him with experiments. He was “a man of low stature, but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage, which was grimed with the vapors of the furnace” and something of a frightening personage, even in the chambers where the scientist has taken his wife to be “corrected” and has taken great pains to make the room beautiful, sunny, and pleasant-smelling. Aminadab makes the important comment that he would never have the birthmark removed from his beautiful wife, which is one of the important aspects to his presence as one of the characters in “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Although there are several longer passages about Aylmer’s activities in the chamber as his wife patiently waits, for this summary of “The Birth Mark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, it is not necessarily important, but will be useful for the analysis. Mostly, the scientist / alchemist is working, trying to perfect a potion to cure his wife’s birthmark and in the process, several of his theories and past discoveries are related to the reader. He finally decides on a potion and gives it to his wife. She feels nothings at first, but then, eventually starts to feel strange. Eventually, Aylmer looks at his wife and is delighted and horrified to watch her birthmark dissolving. However, as it dissolves and fades, the narrator says in one of the important quotes from “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “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” and Georgiana dies as her husband hears some unearthly strange laughter from somewhere he can’t identify. Who is laughing in “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, we can never know, but since this is an allegory, it could be Nature herself.