Length Its Tiny Grasp

The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne was written during the mid-1800s, and its underlying themes are still a part of today’s society. What does the birthmark itself symbolize? The birthmark is a representation of human imperfection, flaws, and how they cannot be altered or changed. Unfortunately, the consequences could be disastrous when these imperfections and flaws are attempted to be corrected. Hawthorne’s conceptions regarding science and beauty are still relevant in today’s attitude concerning achieving perfection. Plastic surgery allows one to dramatically alter and modify one’s appearance to not only fit society’s norm of perfection but also to improve one’s self-esteem. Innovations in surgery allow individuals to turn back time and erase nature’s mistakes or imperfections. People attempt to “play God” to change their appearance, conforming to today’s standards of beauty. Hawthorne’s The Birthmark addresses the loss of individualism and self through aesthetic pursuits geared towards attaining visual perfection.

Georgiana, Alymer’s wife, has a single birthmark, an imperfection “in the center of Georgiana’s left cheek there was a singular mark, deeply interwove, as it were, with the texture and substance of her face.” (p. 366) The contour of the birthmark “bore not a similarity to the human hand, though of smallest pygmy size.” (p. 366) Georgiana’s unwillingness to have the birthmark removed stems from her refusal and reluctance to separate with a piece of her individualism and self. Georgiana associates the birthmark not as a flaw, but instead as an allure, “that some fairy, at her birth-hour had laid her tiny hand upon the infant’s cheek, and left this to impress.” (p. 366). Georgiana’s disinclination to part with her birthmark, her identity, challenges society’s and Alymer’s sense of perfection and assimilation. Alymer “recognized the hideous birthmark as a “symbol of imperfection.” (p. 367) Everyone wants to be accepted, be beautiful, and be ageless. Hence the reasons behind Botox, liposuction, breast augmentations and facelifts to “improve” our bodies. We ultimately sacrifice a piece of our personal self and individualism to gain acceptance and conform to society’s beatification standards.

It is during Alymer’s dream operation that he tries to remove the “hideous” birthmark, the imperfection to her flawless skin, “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.” (p. 368) Without removing Georgiana’s heart, Alymer is unable to disconnect the “hideous” imperfection, suggesting a deeper association between the birthmark, a detail of her identity that she treasures close to her heart and belief system. Ironically, Alymer was able to remove the birthmark, but Georgiana paid the ultimate price with her life.

The problem with Alymer, is his pride along with his compulsive need for perfection, not only in himself and his scientific work but also with Georgiana. Alymer’s unhealthy fascinations with “hideous” birthmark caused Georgiana to waver from her original values and attitudes regarding herself in attempting to please Alymer. Today, we will abandon our own beliefs in order to conform with society’s norms and standards of beauty. We alter our appearance by undergoing procedures and surgeries to improve one’s self-esteem or to look like the women or men in the magazines, losing one’s individualism. Beauty and reversing the time clock has become increasingly important throughout the years. We strive for perfection in society’s imperfect world.If we focus on our flaws and imperfections, we lose ourselves and our individualism. Our personal perception of ourselves and others can become misguided and negatively influenced by the opinions of others. Those flaws and imperfections set us apart from each other, making us unique. Thus we should concentrate on accepting ourselves, our flaws, our mistakes, our imperfections, our birthmarks, instead of trying to change them for others.