Nature and science are intricately linked elements that complement and contradict each other in equal measure. Nathaniel Hawthorne has contributed to this discussion through “The Bench-Mark,” a uniquely written short story that revolves around the life of Aylmer, a scientist whose current mission involves the removal of a birthmark from Georgiana’s cheek. Georgian is Aylmer’s wife who he believes should be more beautiful without the birthmark. Hawthorne is recognized as on the celebrated Romantic authors because of his focus on perpetuating the importance of emotions in society (Boccio 130). In this respect, he wrote “The Birth-Mark” to remind the reader about leading a balanced lifestyle: recognizing both the role of science and feelings and emotions. Although Aylmer’s obsession with love may be justified, it creates a tense relationship between science and nature.
The theme of obsessive lover emerges strongly in Hawthorne’s “The Birth-Mark” because Aylmer believes that he has a duty to use his scientific knowledge to correct what he considers a mistake made by nature. However, the author depicts the dangers associated with love as an obsession. Joining many other authors of the Romantic Era, Hawthorne utilizes the short story about Aylmer and Georgiana to argue that obsessive lover is not only dangerous but deadly dangerous. Specifically, the author demonstrates through writing that his protagonist does not only cherish science and associated inventions, but is also obsessed with it.
Aylmer’s love for science is far above his love and appreciation of Georgiana. This is evident when he spends a lot of time studying and Georgiana’s birthmark in the laboratory (Hawthorne 177; Karasu). Additionally, Aylmer demonstrates his excessive passion for science when he decides to leave Georgina in the laboratory under the care of Aminadab, his Lab Assistant (Haitos 18, 19). Most importantly, it is not clear whether Aminadab is well-equipped with the experiment and its outcomes as Aylmer. Concisely, the fact that Aylmer remains hell-bent on finishing the experiment, regardless of whether it results in her death, indicates his obsessive love with science.
Besides Aylmer’s obsession with science, Georgiana’s love for Aylmer is obsessive because the reader can learn from her actions that she is willing to do anything as a way of pleasing or making him happy. In this case, she shows little to no resistance when he suggests a need for removing her birthmark. Moreover, Georgiana admits that she is ready not only to drink Aylmer’s lab portion but also take poison if he were to ask that of her (Hawthorne 165). Consequently, the characters’ failure to exercise restraint costs Georgiana her life (Hawthorne 178, 180). Lesson wise, Hawthorne has used the story’s title and narration symbolically to expose the harmful aspects of scientific spirit, hence the need to be worried about it.
Boccio, Rachel. “What Sort of Man was Wakefield?” Selfhood and Sovereignty in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-told Tale.” Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, vol. 45, no. 2, 2019, pp. 130-151.
Haitos, Alexander. “Pitfalls of Perfection: Rethinking Hawthorne’s Treatment of Science and the Danger of Extremes in “The Artist of the Beautiful” and “The Birthmark,” A Master of Arts Thesis, 2015, pp. 1-108.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birthmark.” In: Hawthorne’s Short Stories. Edited by Newton Arvin. New York: Vintage Classics (Division of Random House, Inc.) 2011, 177-193.
Karasu, Sylvia. “Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark:” A Failure to Find a Perfect Future in an Imperfect Present,” Hektoen International Journal, 2017.