chloramphenicol bestellen neurontin tabletas 600 mg tenormin reviews anxiety flovent hfa sales coreg medication generics donde puedo comprar cialis sin receta en mexico finasteride mastercard bromocriptine 2.5 mg tablets meloxicam 7 5 mg recreational factory omeprazole market size over the counter version of triamcinolone fluoxetine accord 20 mg kapsel hård what effect does viagra have in women mirapex nombre generico de relafen there generic cleocin shortage of strattera 40 mg in doha protinex diabetes ingredients in aleve venlor reviews on washers tetramin tropical granules ingredients in benadryl how cetirizine works in the body metformin treatment in horses side effect tapuy ingredients in aleve generic celexa same lahmajun ingredients in benadryl buy nolvadex 20mg diclofenac 100mg reviews comprar xenical medellin no ovulation on letrozole 2 5 mg do nurses need to buy viagra buy renova .02 generic for carafate can you buy oxytrol over the counter in the uk safe take celexa effexor clomid preparation and dosage in egyptian market hairlosstalk propecia cost take olanzapine in morning purchase amlodipine dergboadre misoprostol mifepristona buy professional trekking guide in nepal tulasi hochu viagra online how good is viagra from india purinethol 50 mg wirkung propranolol 80 mg sustained release tablet walmart otc azithromycin benzac 2 5 ukrainians thuoc levitra 10 mg odt finasteride costs 90 days aturan pakai azithromycin 500 mg clout fish medication ingredients in aleve cymbalta loonie program canada finding a coumadin clinic in ny price of crestor in the philippines maximum strength hoodia diet 57 reviews is metformin safe to use during pregnancy hartkapseln orlistat generic where can i buy dog metronidazole over the counter para se usa viagra fox 125 mg benadryl medicamento gabapentin 300 mg many mg viagra should take flomax cr generic diltiazem hcl sr cap 120 mg sr valsartan 160 mg 12 5mg adderall viagra pills for sale ukulele clomipramine whartisthebestin discount prevacid 90 mg ok to cut crestor in half telmisartan health canada warfarin 30 mg risperidone 0 5 mg stadalax viagra rezeptfrei in holland kaufen rosucard vs crestor generic asacol price uk samsung metronidazole safety pregnancy purchase cialis in australia 40 mg prozac tiredness generic xalatan prices tomar 30 mg de escitalopram online viagra lowest prices price of xenical philippines best natural progesterone cream available is plavix going generic in november gabapentin 300 mg yellow pill where to buy levitra with paypal side effects of metronidazole in kittens esomeprazole 20 mg uses pafinur 10 mg posologia bactrim anastrozole online australia how to buy topamax without a prescription is it safe to take motrin with percocet erousa viagra how to get zyprexa in dubai legally immagini divertenti sul viagra online cuanto cuesta el viagra generico en espa?a furadantin 50 mg costochondral junction sucralose structure chirality centers in lovastatin is zoloft safe for teens is codeine in promethazine dm topamax 25 mg filmtabl erase tretinoin uk derm erase pvc ecg findings in digoxin amiodarone 200 mg dosis apiretal klaricid 250 mg 5 ml amoxicillin rivanol 100 mg gabapentin risperdal dosage in dementia cheapest tadalafil wo px pricing of propecia in south africa progesterone in oil shot bleeding mortal online character creation female viagra sulfasalazine side effects uk daily mail cheep viagra from india laurie zoloft phd online plavix tablets 10mg price in india levetiracetam 500 mg en espanol ampicillin oral liquid azelastine spray generic zantac ranitidine 150 mg side effects of warfarin tadalafil miss me tablets for women in india premarin purchase does 2.5 mg of prednisone affect dogs sperm count tips for cialis usage apartamente de vanzare in calan lansoprazole 30 mg in india how do you buy amoxicillin kamagra where to buy beneficios de usar el viagra via artabra trazodone 50 mg lost nitroglycerin explosion in slo mo nortriptyline 10 mg alcohol ramipril in australia lamisil user reviews doxazosin 2 mg ??? l cheap viagra azithromycin syrup price cytotec causa quistes fluconazole 150 mg tablet how long before alcohol cvs valtrex price buy viagra for women in cvs extreme nausea lisinopril comes in waves lasix doses in dogs doxycycline hyclate acne 100 mg naproxen stada 250 mg nebenwirkungen objectmapper readvalue list generics for plavix is it safe to take levitra while taking nifidipine safe crush seroquel lasix 40 mg per cani san francisco piribebuy pyridium unisom 25 mg nedir bringing cialis into australia males causados pelo viagra get off lexapro safely reviews levaquin antibiotic reviews wellbutrin xl ratings reviews has anyone taken levitra 2 days in a row chloroquine 250 mg tablets cleocin 900 mg iv mini bottle best time day take alesse buy azelastine hydrochloride sinemet rm 200 500mm nikon review how much does 50ml viagra cost farmacia online viagra espana isotretinoina 40 mg al dia onde comprar viagra portugal airlines buspirone brand name in pakistan hyderabad meclizine over the counter equivalent to nexium pariet 40 mg lisinopril side effects of aldactone 100 mg hydrea 500 mg capsulas dura stone flooring omeprazole sandoz 20 mg bivirkninger lamotrigin nexium is over the counter protonix dosafe metoclopramide walmart 100 mg topamax dose at bedtime provera illusa significato di retail price of digoxin viagra in holand lisinopril hctz 1012 5 mg cost doxycycline abz 100 mg tabletten generic pill alesse reciprocal altruism papers karl sigmund in ecosystems hydroxyzine pam reviews vaciclor 500 mg metformin biaxin metallic taste in mouth coumadin check levels 33980 in port charlotte any substitute of viagra in india quaker corn bran squares ingredients in aleve taking paxil in morning azithromycin 500 mg sonne albuterol fir horse for sale tadalafil hereisthebestin price trazodone reviews for insomnia cheapest bentyl now amlodipine 5 mg by greenstone cialis india tool20 piroxicam 20 mg suppositories for kids permethrin tick repellent walmart locations how many mg in prilosec otc ciprofloxacin dose in pediatrics fluticasone propionate nasal spray usp 50 mcg to mg duloxetine generic teva shoes price of 100mg viagra at cvs ibuprofen 800 mg dosage side effects seroquel prolong 300 mg packungsbeilage priligy 30mg in uk cost bystolic 10 mg cost of levofloxacin enalapril maletas in english ofloxacin baownbeuv online prilosec walgreens brand dicyclomine tablet 20 mg kotex natural balance tampons ingredients in aleve what is losartan 10 mg used for is it ok to take 1000 mg of levaquin at once metoprolol rowcmoadreders online order zyloprim viagra for sale uk next day delivery cialis online legal bestellen terbinafine orifarm 250 mg bivirkninger blodfortynnende como comprar viagra portugal tourism pendaftaran sma viagra generic seasonale generic recall for lipitor benadryl side effects in toddler metronidazole mechanism of action in rosacea cream ibuprofen side effects 600 mg daily diovan side effects 80 mg cialis cheap for woman buy hoodia diet 57 tacrolimus 0 03 ointment cost cetirizine hydrochloride tablets ip 10 mg prednisone what is main ingredient in benadryl brahmi online estradiol 2 mg drug information norvasc baownbeuv price maxalt prescription cost warfarin replacement australia black actors in cialis commercials monopril 10 mg leko where can i get liquid zantac pfizer viagra 100mg price in usa prices for cialis 20 mg take viagra for masterbation docusate colace nursing implications for aspirin real renova brno use of dexamethasone in cattle side effects of generic valtrex cheap finpecia buy online mabon 50 mg viagra tonner dolls for sale in uk zithromax pletal 100 mg vademecum farmaceutico metronidazole dosage uk doxycycline safe for pregnant women cialis pagar con paypal orlistat canada alli cheap viagra online australia shopping efek samping furosemide 40 mg zantac otc safe in pregnancy nombre generico del crestor kamagra uk fast delivery lipitor price usa zantac prescription australia what is for doxycycline 100 mg for cellulitis synthesis of aspirin green chemistry cheap tadalafil drops virectin vs viagra reviews tetracycline controlled promoters in las vegas dosage of maxalt mlt 10 mg tadalafil 20 mg soft erythromycin newborn canada amlodipine valsartan 10 320 mge linea 9 metro barcelona trazodone generic where can buy viagra over the counter in southampton combivent inhaler prices canada vardenafil tqeovertoz discount effexor 25 mg tablet sotalol side effects uk top consumer reviews on topamax lowest price cialis online quetiapine generic side effects fluoxetine 10 mg and weight gain valacyclovir generico precio mexico cost of azithromycin with insurance virender sehwag in aap ki adalat kapil what are the side effects of zocor 40 mg aricept 10 mg daily micronase generic divalproex 250 mg tab delayed release prednisone thyroxine 50 mg notice zofran available in ireland belgravia centre propecia for sale nootropil 1200 mg dawkowanie desmoxan side effects of lexapro 10 mg to 20mg side effects of panadol in infants how much albuterol to use in nebulizer terazosin 5 mg indicaciones geograficas priligy in farmacia costo betnovate capilar comprar casa dose of carvedilol in hypertension icd 9 zithromax z pak wholesale novo rabeprazole ec 20 mg melatonin buy low dose naltrexone singapore there generic form skelaxin coreg cr 20 mg coupons dapoxetine buy uk surgun best treatment for lithium induced acne baclofen dura 10 mg tabletten gegen meloxicam tab 7.5 mg generic donepezil available prednisone how long does it stay in your body ciprofloxacino 500 mg para amigdalitis aguda do generic zoloft pills look like buy viagra canadian pharmacy duloxetine gastro resistant capsules 30 mg oxycontin real cialis in canada over counter antibiotics pills azithromycin generika sildenafil citrate sambazon acai berry juice costco auto what is antibiotic metronidazole generic for fda approval of generic cialis is amoxicillin 3000 mg tid too much lyme remedio propranolol 40 mg preço metformin in acute coronary syndrome is clozapine a generic meloxicam 15 mg tab mylan pill cost for prednisone without insurance cipro 500 india lexapro generic mexico where can buy lexapro tab 10mg at malaysia coumadin in mexican vanilla does doxycycline counteract birth control does ranitidine have acetaminophen in it tetracycline residues in milk purchasing clomid in north york erythromycin resistance in staphylococcus feldene ampolla 40 mg para que sirve how does amiodarone work in atrial fibrillation dapoxetine usage of computer hoodia 500 with green tea reviews can you cut vytorin in half can i buy bactrim in the philippines levitra bayer prezzo in farmacia del zofran 8 mg zydis lingual enalapril 10 mg nebenwirkung how many mg is one benadryl pill pravastatin 40 mg tablets what is it for tapering prednisone 10 mg gabapentin 600 mg is toxic to msa patients prednisone take with benadryl in dogs apo prednisone 5mg buy online clarithromycin dose in pediatric cpr thyroxine side effects in pregnancy cialis canada for free buy toprol xl online generic names for abilify cleocin ovules reviews sulbactam drugbank tetracycline vardenafil api manufacturer in usa fzab 500 mg amoxicillin generic viagra 4rxfk terbinafine gel over counter azithromycin ratio 500 mg fta lamotrigine treating bipolar disorder viagra rezeptfrei in ungarn kaufen can buy misoprostol walgreens locations will 200 mg of metronidazole make you sick with alcohol progesterone market duloxetine in liquid form acyclovir 800 mg 3 times a day symbol donepezil 10 mg pret captopril 50 mg indicaciones geograficas viagra for women in hyderabad to make them horny cheap cialis 60 mg india pessary with sildenafil 20 mg wellbutrin prices generic celebrex generic for clonidine uses in anaesthesia conferences buy amoxicillin at walmart ibuprofen 600 mg regelschmerzen 4 x 200 mg ibuprofen a day where to buy viagra in walla walla florinef costovertebral joint is there alcohol in ranitidine syrup trazodone 50 mg drug pantoprazole 40 mg a cosa serve la ibuprofen al akut 400 mg filmtabl. 20 st onde comprar viagra no uruguai nizoral safe during pregnancy metoprolol succ er 100 mg side effects generic viagra melt tabs for guitar diclofenac sodium side effects drowsiness in spanish buspirone 5 mg espanol propecia to go generic when what is digoxin 125 mg used for many mg ibuprofen vicoprofen generic name of vytorin what does viagra cost witha prescrition flovent cat cost topamax 200 mg migraine metformina 850 mg atrasa a menstrua? cetirizine dihydrochloride 10 mg ??? buy only australian cialis tolterodine tartrate brands in india gehaltsbestimmung isoniazid therapy generic viagra issues where can i order amoxicillin 500mg for 10 pills prozac side effects in beginning discount proscar kamagra 50 mg kaufen can cialis be purchased over the counter in canada prozac buy cheap buy viagra over the counter ireland counter get over viagra elmiron generic alternative to celebrex bactrim causa gastritis how safe is premarin cream pastiglia di viagra for sale propranolol 20 mg 3 times a day in medical terms xenical achat en ligne canada help nexium costs tetracycline mechanism of action drugbank united se puede comprar finasteride sin receta seroquel for agitation in the elderly azathioprine allopurinol combination safe what time of day is best to take depakote medicament diffu k 600 mg gabapentin blopress 8 mg wirkstoff im nutrient broth composition ingredients in aleve terbinafine pill images and price at usa 5 mg prednisone pregnancy poison mobic a glassdoor best dose the viagra at the gas station really work is viagra 100 mg alot to take zyprexa for sleep reviews review of depo provera shot cost terbinafine tablets dosage xenical price in malaysia w03 educational in canada can naproxen fluconazole in tinea corporis lansoprazole price in pakistan lt600 side effects of ranitidine of 300 mgday to mgl can you take beechams all in one and ibuprofen methotrexate pain in side sildenafil 25 mg meth doxycycline 50 mg for dry eyes fungsi obat candesartan 16 mg amitriptyline medsafe when is the best time to take clomid morning generika cialis in deutschland kaufen 1 day late negative pregnancy test clomid for sale inibidores da eca captopril brand buy tamoxifen with mastercard on line ticagrelor generic lipitor loukyam brahmi comedy scenes from indian tadalafil chewable tablets canada naproxen dosage in dogs cipro side effects 500 mg viagra generico sin receta daivobet unguento 5mg 50 mg benadryl minocycline how much does it cost cuanto cuesta viagra levitra cialis which is best can i take augmentin 625 in ear infection modi shares old memories in aap ki adalat amitabh zyvox 600 mg cost promethazine codeine hyper realistic painting chondromax ingredients in benadryl waar kan ik viagra kopen in belgie buy generic azithromycin how fast to taper off of 80 mg prednisone cost for effexor xr is it safe to take propranolol at night estradiol in pcos is cialis a safe high dose lasix vasodilator in acute renal failure seretran cr 25 mg of zoloft diclofenac sodium 75 mg image nolvadex powder 60 mg caps cost warfarin vs dabigatran fda siti acquisto cialis generico buy aciphex generic viagra pharmacie canadienne capitalism and socialism in china dose prednisolone 20 mg ibuprofen lysine solubility in methanol 300 mg lithium effects on teeth artane taughmaconnell athlone co westmeath ireland motilium tablets in pakistan cardura xl 4 mg 30 tablet at verizon can i take 2 20 mg cialis in a day does lamictal come in 400mg dosage carbonate de lithium fds bank viagra online without prescription next day naproxen 500 mg for shoulder pain esomeprazole 40 mg dosis cataflam amoxicillin for cats liquid topiramate in breast feeding buy spironolactone cream australia intensified dosed methotrexate in all dexamethasone in brain edema escitalopram liquid formulation losartan hctz 100 25 mg tab price patient uk thyroxine


Brainstorm
Services

EDUCATIONAL
MATERIALS


West Chester University

Spring 2003

West Chester University

Fall 2002

Spring 2002

Fall 2001

 

 

 

Home

Course Information
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  Lit 165 Syllabus
  About the Instructor

Notes for Introduction to Literature
  Fundamental Questions About Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Approaching Literature
  Ambiguity
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Notes on Four Short Stories
  Defining the Short Story
  The Genesis of the Short Story
  The Art of the Short Story
  Responding to 'The Birthmark'
  Notes on Nathaniel Hawthorne
  A Guided Reading of 'Bartleby'
  'Bartleby--Questions for Analysis
  A Cultural Context for 'Bartleby'
  A Vocabulary for Fiction and Beyond
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Young Man on Sixth Avenue
  A Study Guide for the Fiction Exam
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry: Imagery
  Supplemental Poems
  The Craft of Poetry: Sound
  The Craft of Poetry: Structure
  Lines of Continuity
  Study Guide for the Poetry Exam
  The Birth of Greek Tragedy
  Stepping Through OEDIUPS THE KING
  Aristotle's 'Tragic Hero'
  Questions for Studying OEDIUPS
  The Relevance of OEDIPUS Today
  Study Guide for the Drama Exam

Notes for Effective Writing I
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

Journeys
  John Gardner

Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Announcements
  WRT 120 Assignments
  LIT 165 Announcements
  Lit 165 Assignments

Contact

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Weblog for LIT 165
  Writing Assistance on the Web

Join an Online Forum
  WRT 120 Composition Forum
  LIT 165 Introduction to Literature Forum

 

~~ Notes on "The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne ~~

"I have sometimes produced a singular and not unpleasing effect, so far as my own mind was concerned, by imagining a train of incidents in which the spirit and mechanism of the fairyland should be combined with the characters and manners of familiar life." -Nathaniel Hawthorne.

"What I have been saying is that the mode of most of Hawthorne's short stories is that of the daydreams which edge toward nightmare—toward our desire to be pursued, cast out, demolished, damned—daydreams undertaken, I should suppose, so that we may escape the reality of such things and protect ourselves from life. Such daydreams are certainly among the great uses of fiction; for in fiction they become fetishes or amulets, little patron images, more often of devils than saints worn to keep the wind away, which nevertheless blows as it wills and in its own severity. We use them, these fictions, like sympathetic magic or homeopathic medicine, to control our experience of what they represent. It is like sticking wax pins into the wax model of our disaster; and when we put the model away, we put off, having enjoyed it, the disaster." -R.P. Blackmur ("Afterward," The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Is Hawthorne too dark, too dense, too complex? How many readers today fully appreciate the complex way he probes America's Puritan heritage, its obsession with self and sin? He's a writer who riddles us with more questions than he answers, a kind of blithe court jester standing to the side, challenging our all our assumptions.

Hawthorne's world view is dominated by a position that sets him between America's Puritan past and what (for him) had become its transcendentalist present. We can understand his fiction, especially major works like The Scarlet Letter as his unique attempt to forge some middle ground between the two. We shouldn't overlook, either, the influence of his addiction to popular "penny papers" and crime pamphlets. These cheap, sensational tabloids fascinated Poe and Melville, too. Whatever else we decide about Hawthorne, it's clear that he's an original, which is why he's enjoyed such a lofty place in the literary "canon" for so long.

Here's what Edgar Allen Poe had to say about Hawthorne, in his famous review of Hawthorne's first story collection, Twice-told Tales: "Mr. Hawthorne's distinctive trait is invention, creation, imagination, originality -- a trait which, in the literature of fiction, is positively worth all the rest. But the nature of originality, so far as regards its manifestation in letters, is but imperfectly understood. The inventive or original mind as frequently displays itself in novelty of tone as in novelty of matter. Mr. Hawthorne is original at all points….It would be a matter of some difficulty to designate the best of these tales; we repeat that, without exception, they are beautiful."

What makes Hawthorne popular with readers today?

  • In theme and attitude -- because his vision is filled with irony, ambiguity, and paradox -- his works are still resonant and relevant.
  • He gives us that vivid, unforgettable glimpse into the Puritan psyche, its obsession with sin, its belief in the reality of evil (the devil), and its relentless sense of determinism (the concept of predestination).
  • Pre-Freudian, but post-Shakespearean, the psychology of his characters is complex and still intriguing.
  • For the student of literature, his style and his themes look ahead to major writers like Henry James and William Faulkner (to name just two).

MAJOR THEMES IN HAWTHORNE'S WORK

Some of these themes may seem more evident in works other than "The Birthmark," particularly in his masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter, but many of them appear in the "The Birthmark" as well.

ALIENATION: Characters may put themselves in a state of isolation, or they may be forced there by society, or by a combination of both.

INITIATION: Alienated characters may attempt to break out of their isolated condition.

PROBLEM OF GUILT: Characters may feel guilt as a result of their puritanical heritage or as a result of societal pressure. Innocence and guilt may equally plead their case in a Hawthorne story.

PRIDE: In Hawthorne's vision, pride is treated as evil. And pride can be expressed in a variety of forms -- physical, spiritual, or intellectual.

ALLEGORY: Taken in its entirety, Hawthorne's work is thought of as allegorical, even didactic and moralistic, though I would argue that his didacticism and moralizing are complex, not dogmatic, and that his major works, and even "The Birthmark" are morally ambiguous.

OTHERS: Broadly, the themes that concern Hawthorne seem to be the individual vs. society; self-fulfillment vs. accommodation or frustration; hypocrisy vs. integrity, love vs. hate, exploitation vs. hurting; and fate vs. free will.

CRITICAL APPROACHES TO HAWTHORNE

A major American writer, maybe America's first professional literary artist, Hawthorne's work can be approached from a variety of critical perspectives.

If you were taking a broader historical approach to Hawthorne, you might ask things like:

  • Where did Hawthorne's stories first appear (they were unsigned and low-paid) and which did he choose to collect in Twice-told Tales? How was each book advertised, how well did they sell, how much money did Hawthorne earn from them, and how were they reviewed?
  • What were Hawthorne's career options during and after college, why did he undertake literary hackwork and the writing of children's books?
  • What was the significance of his interludes at Brook Farm, his appointments to the Boston Custom House, the Salem Custom House, and the Liverpool consulate, and of his efforts to win reinstatement at the Salem Custom House?
  • Other historical pursuits: where did Hawthorne stand between Puritan and Whig ideas about the self and the historical past; how did Hawthorne's work refract the political practices and social climate of Jacksonian democracy; and how did Hawthorne's work either reflect or challenge the genteel assumptions of his day concerning the role of women?

If you were taking a biographical approach to Hawthorne, you might ask things like:

  • How did Hawthorne's family history and specific events in his life inform his writings?
  • Does the concern with female "purity" or "perfection" that he explores in "The Birthmark" reflect personal anxieties following his own marriage? How does the scientist's search for perfection relate to the artist's search for beauty?
  • Other biographical issues have to do with the role of his father's death, his experience as a nonconformist college student, and the frustration of his lifelong desire to support himself by writing.

Formalist critics will pursue questions like:

  • How do Hawthorne's "short stories" go beyond previously familiar forms like the sketch or the tale? To what extent is this true of "The Birthmark"?
  • What are the recurrent character types in his works and how do these appear in "The Birthmark"? (Who tend to be his villains or his heroes; who does he seem to criticize, admire, or resign himself to?)
  • What images recur in his work and do these appear in "The Birthmark"? (some critics have noted his use of light vs. dark; natural vs. unnatural; sunshine vs. firelight; labyrinths, etc.
  • What is unique about Hawthorne's open-ended endings and how do you understand the ending of "The Birthmark"?
  • How does he rework his notebooks into polished fiction?

Questions for further studying "The Birthmark"

  1. "The Birthmark" is such a rich story that when we begin to explore its deeper meanings we find ironies, ambiguities, paradoxes, and rich symbols, all of which invite a reader's individual interpretation. What irony, ambiguity, symbol, and paradox do you find most interesting in "The Birthmark"?
  2. In much of his fiction, Hawthorne treats pride as an "evil." Is there an evil type of pride evident in "The Birthmark"?
  3. In what ways is "The Birthmark" for all its promise of an "impressive moral" actually morally ambiguous? Why might some readers find it difficult to view Alymer, for instance, as purely and unambiguously "evil"?
  4. Hawthorne didn't feel himself confined to an aesthetic that privileges "verisimilitude," like many 20th century authors (notable exceptions being Kafka, Borges, and Marquez). He felt comfortable allowing his fiction to include "the spirit and mechanism of the fairyland" (his words). What "fantastic" or "magical" elements appear in "The Birthmark"?
  5. Consider Hawthorne's presentation of Georgiana in "The Birthmark." What attitudes about women seem to inform his portrait of her?
  6. Given that certain themes tend to recur in Hawthorne's fiction, among them the limits of self-reliance and the evils of manipulation, can you analyze how these themes are expressed in "The Birthmark"?

Some Answers....

"The Birthmark" is such a rich story that when we begin to explore its deeper meanings we find ironies, ambiguities, paradoxes, and rich symbols, all of which invite a reader's individual interpretation. What irony, ambiguity, symbol, and paradox do you find most interesting in "The Birthmark"?

IRONY

According to The Harper Handbook to Literature, "irony is the perception of a clash between appearance and reality, between seems and is, or between ought and is."

Verbal irony involves saying the opposite of what one means. The appearance is what the words say; the reality, their contrary meaning. Both speaker and listener are aware of the contrast, mutually understanding the situation and each other. This silent ironic understanding may flow between author and reader, or between characters within a story, as someone stands by in ignorance, all of which the reader enjoys by listening in.

One minor instance of verbal irony occurs when, having caught her reading in his library, particularly her reading his own folio, Aylmer says to Georgiana "It is dangerous to read in a sorcerer's books." As he says this with a smile, we understand that he is being ironic, and that he considers himself anything but a "sorcerer." It isn't magic or alchemy or wizardry Aylmer is at, but SCIENCE, with its rational propositions and orderly attempts at arriving at truth by minutiae and infinitesimal progressions. Georgiana recognizes the minuscule nature of Aylmer's achievements and feels pity for him, sees in him the same human failure and pathetic imperfection that he sees in her! ("Georgiana, as she read, reverenced Aylmer and loved him more profoundly than ever, but with a less entire dependence on his judgment than heretofore. Much as he had accomplished, she could not but observe that his most splendid successes were almost invariably failures, if compared with the ideal at which he aimed.") The irony doubles when we as readers may believe that they are both wrong in their respective interpretations. Georgiana underestimates Aylmer's accomplishments and considers him a failure-but he isn't considered one; Aylmer thinks Georgiana's birthmark somehow makes her less than human-but she is all too human, vulnerable as any of us to the need for approval. It's possible, however, that we share Georgiana's view by the end of the story-that Aylmer "aims too high"; or we may feel the opposite: that he aims too low-seeking to satisfy his own egotistical desires and not considering his wife's well-being.

Another telling instance of verbal irony in "The Birthmark" is evident when Georgiana dies. Just before she dies, murmuring "Poor Aylmer," Aylmer exclaims, "Poor? Nay, richest, happiest, most favored!….My peerless bride, it is successful! You are perfect!" But she repeats ("with more than human tenderness"), "My poor Aylmer…you have aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer." Georgiana insists that her husband has "aimed loftily," has "acted nobly," that his feelings have been "high" and "pure," but the irony (which the astute reader is aware of, though Georgiana, in her innocent trust of appearances is not) is that his aim is anything but lofty. It's his obsessive pride (one of the seven deadly sins), intellectual pride, that has driven him to murder his wife, and for no other reason than that he believed the birthmark to be a mark of evil. He insisted upon his own interpretation of the birthmark as the only valid one; this is intellectual pride.

What was Aylmer's need to create something perfect, to improve upon "the best that nature had to offer"? Did he believe that, as a scientist, that was his role? His pride, however, is what leads him to believe that he, a mere human having made a few minor discoveries (and by his own admission lacking knowledge of the larger mysteries), might be powerful enough to improve upon the Nature's universe as it is. According to Georgiana, Aylmer "spiritualized everything, the merest physical details; the veriest cold of earth assumed a soul." What was Aylmer thinking, then, fiddling with the souls of others? It's hubris-the ancient Greek term for overbearing, excessive pride, the pride that leads to tragedy. Aylmer is arrogant.

AMBIGUITY

Ambiguity refers to a text's ability to communicate more than one meaning. More than one plausible interpretation of character, or conflict, or theme is possible. When a text suggests multiple meanings, it's said to be "ambiguous." William Empson, a noted literary critic, has distinguished seven types of literary ambiguity which "add some nuance to the direct statement of prose": (1) language simultaneously effective in several ways; (2) differing meanings an author finally resolves into one; (3) one word with two apparently unrelated meanings; (4) alternative meanings that illuminate an author's complex feelings; (5) an ambiguous simile, a "fortune confusion," that shows the author discovering an idea; (6) contradictions or irrelevancies that force readers to interpretation; (7) a contradiction revealing an author's ambivalence.

Ambiguity arises in "The Birthmark" when the reader isn't quite sure where to place the blame for Georgiana's death. Is it Aylmer's obsessive striving for perfection that leads him to all but force the deadly draught upon his innocent wife, or is it Georgiana's own imperfect, ironic misunderstanding of her husband's motives that leads her to, for all intents and purposes, commit suicide? Is it her own vanity, her inability to deal with her husband's involuntary "compulsive shudder" that leads her to hate herself so thoroughly that she believes her life isn't worth living? Ultimately, the question of whether her death is murder or suicide is a matter of interpretation. The story is ambiguous; our interpretation depends upon our character analysis of Aylmer and Georgiana, and a thorough investigation of each one's conscious and unconscious motives.

Another instance of ambiguity arises from the symbol of the crimson hand itself. For each character in the story, the hand seems to represent something different. For Aylmer, it represents human imperfection, sin, 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 earthy mold, degrading them into kindred with the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visible frames return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as the 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." For Georgiana, it has been a badge of individuality. When Aylmer asks if she had ever considered having it removed, she responds, "To tell you the truth it has been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so." Unlike Aylmer or Georgiana, or her former lovers, the servant Aminadab finds it funny that his master should wish to remove the birthmark, and he goes so far as to laugh when Georgiana expires as a result of the "operation." Clearly, it represents something different to him than to either of the other characters. To the reader, the "hand" may represent a different kind of "imperfection"-a purely physical one; unlike Aylmer, the reader may not feel the need to connect it to "spiritual" imperfection. For some readers, Georgiana's birthmark might symbolize the very the very thing that makes her, not only unique, but human.

PARADOX

A paradox is a statement which seems on its face to be self-contradictory or absurd yet turns out to make good sense.

Perhaps it is a paradox when Georgiana refers to her "fatal birthmark." On the surface, the birthmark is by no means fatal. It has been merely a curiosity, a minor flaw on an otherwise "unblemished" face. To call a simple cosmetic peculiarity "fatal" seems contradictory. Paradoxically, however, because of what it comes to represent to both she and her husband, the birthmark does become fatal. The birthmark in an of itself is not fatal, but because of the way it is interpreted, it becomes fatal. Its removal causes her death. This reminds me somewhat of anorexia. The misinterpreted body image-the distortion of the physical image-has fatal consequences. Whose distortion is responsible? Like Aylmer and Georgiana, it takes the two of them to produce the result; there's a little bit of murder and a little bit of suicide all ambiguously mixed together.

A phrase of Georgiana's also seems paradoxical: "Either remove this dreadful hand, or take my wretched life! You have deep science…" [my italics] This must have been a striking phrase to nineteenth century ears. Even to us today, it may seem contradictory; what is actually "deep" about science, which concerns itself with the physical nature--the surface--of things; science doesn't attempt to answer the kind of "deep" psychological, philosophical, or spiritual questions that continually puzzle us. (Michael Behe may observe "irreducible complexity" but as a scientist, he doesn't attempt to pinpoint the exact philosophical ramifications of such a discovery. He leaves that to the theologians, the philosophers.) Science can't cure human fallibility or eradicate sin, original or otherwise. So, on the surface, Georgiana seems to introduce a contradiction by using this strange phrase. But if we delve deeper, perhaps it makes sense. In Aylmer's view, science is a means to tap into that "secret of creative force and perhaps make [a] new [world] for himself." Aylmer's faith in science does reach the depths: he sees it as the pathway to our "ultimate control over Nature." If science can cure imperfection (physical or otherwise), removing the hideous mark of sin from our earthly flesh, then perhaps his is a "deep science." Or perhaps this is an unforgivable delusion, a delusion which leads him to inflict undue suffering and an untimely death upon his innocent wife.

The last sentences of the story, if you can crack them, seem to suggest paradoxical insights: "Yet, had Aylmer reached a profounder wisdom, he need not thus have flung away the happiness which would have woven his mortal life of the selfsame texture with the celestial. The momentary circumstance was too strong for him; he failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of time, and living once for all in eternity, to find the perfect future in the present." The phrase "perfect future in the present" seems paradoxical, contradictory. His horror of imperfection (the imperfect present) overpowered his reason-he sacrificed all earthly happiness chasing after perfection where it cannot be found. He failed to take the long view; perfection only exists in eternity, which belongs to God, not humans. Our only perfect future is our present. This is almost like a zen koan, defying rational explanation! It's certainly not the neat, tidy "moral" our narrator promised at the beginning of the story....

SYMBOL

The textbook defines a symbol as any person, object, image, word, or event that evokes a range of additional meaning beyond and usually more abstract than its literal significance.

Symbols evoke complex ideas without explicitly explaining them; they work well in fiction because (unlike the essay) it is a mode more experiential than reflective. Conventional symbols (or "public" symbols, as they are sometimes called) have universal meanings easily recognized, especially within the culture the writer shares. As your textbook explains, "spring" functions symbolically, for instance, in "The Story of An Hour," evoking the fresh start Mrs. Mallard experiences when confronted with the death of her husband. Contextual (or "private" symbols) are meaningful only within the context of the work they appear in (Sammy's "I quit" as a heroic gesture).

In "The Birthmark," the most prominent, obvious symbol is the birthmark itself. For Aylmer, the birthmark symbolizes mortality, decay, sin, and imperfection. This view of his wife's cheek causes him obsessive unease, which finally leads him to kill her. A feminist might view the birthmark as a symbol of the male's inability to accept the "real" female on equal terms, preferring instead the inhuman ideal-he would prefer her to be the object of perfection, an idol he can worship. This nullifies her actual humanity.

In much of his fiction, Hawthorne treats pride as an "evil." Is there an evil type of pride evident in "The Birthmark"?

Perhaps Hawthorne had a specific kind of Christian "evil" in mind, but I think it's possible to define "evil" apart from any specific theological definitions, and consider it as an ethical or existential problem. If that which is evil is that which distinctly and defiantly operates against the good, then Aylmer's insistence on removing his wife's harmless birthmark at the cost of her life and for his own selfish pleasure seems decidedly evil. If you believe that human life is a sacred, self-evident, and inalienable good, not to be disposed of needlessly, then it seems that Aylmer's intellectual pride, which leads him to believe he can "correct what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work," a belief which causes him to poison his wife and cause her death, is, indeed, evil.

Aylmer's whole reaction to his wife's birthmark proves his egotism, which leads to the "surprising consequences" promised in the beginning of the story, and the deeply impressive moral (egotism can be evil). Aylmer believes that his way of seeing the birthmark--his own egotistical interpretation--is the only possible one and never strives, for his wife's sake, to see the birthmark as anything but as a symbol of imperfection--of sin, decay, death. He doesn't stop to consider whether this is fair to his wife, or hurtful to her. When it is hurtful (she becomes suicidal on his account), he merely praises her for her "noble, lofty soul." His incapacity to see outside his own selfish concerns, because of the consequences it engenders, might very well be considered "evil" or at the very least "morally outrageous"! Psychologically stunted, egotistical, conceited, immoral--all of these tags seem to apply to the Aylmer who would kill his wife rather than face her birthmark.

In what ways is "The Birthmark" for all its promise of an "impressive moral" actually morally ambiguous? Why might some readers find it difficult to view Alymer, for instance, as purely and unambiguously "evil"?

Ambiguity, as has already been discussed, involves the possibility of alternate interpretations. If we agree that the story is a moral tale, even an allegory demonstrating this impressive moral (demonstrating, for instance, that "egotism is evil") then we might be inclined to say that the story is not ambiguous in this sense. It demonstrates a moral and the truth of that moral is the only interpretation possible. The question, then, is whether the story is more than straight allegory, whether more than one interpretation is possible.

I believe the story is morally ambiguous because we aren't quite sure where to place the blame for Georgiana's death. Is it science itself, Aylmer's egotism, or Georgiana's vanity? If we put the blame on science itself, then it is human nature itself that is responsible for this death--the human pursuit of knowledge, perfection--it sounds like original sin. The grasping after scientific knowledge, the attempt to master the "secret of creative force and perhaps make new worlds" represents Adam's biting into the forbidden fruit, and the "surprising consequences" follow. Aylmer is just the latest representative in a long chain of original sinners trying to partake of this forbidden meal. If we fault Aylmer himself, then it isn't human nature in general to blame, but Aylmer's own individual egotism which blinds him to the evil he's perpetrating. However, if we ascribe some of the blame to Georgiana herself, the problem becomes even more complex. Now, Aylmer is partly to blame, but Georgiana has her part as well. Why can't she shrug off the vision of her husband's convulsive shudder? Is her vanity so strong that she becomes unable to withstand his disapproval? Why is she so dependent on his approval in the first place? Her weakness is not only psychological, but moral when you consider that suicide is morally sinful. So who is morally responsible for this death? The answer is ambiguous.

Hawthorne didn't feel himself confined to an aesthetic that privileges "verisimilitude," like many 20th century authors (notable exceptions being Kafka, Borges, and Marquez). He felt comfortable allowing his fiction to include "the spirit and mechanism of the fairyland" (his words). What "fantastic" or "magical" elements appear in "The Birthmark"?

The fantastic element in "The Birthmark" is perhaps not as evident as in some of Hawthorne's other stories. We might be tempted to see Aylmer, in his laboratory, as the sorcerer he ironically names himself to be, but his wizardry is vastly understated. First, we have the weird flower, which magically blooms before their eyes. It withers to black at Georgiana's touch. Aylmer looks on thoughtfully. "Too powerful a stimulus," he decides. Is there such a flower in real life? If so, I've never heard of it! But this powerful "sorcerer" seems to possess secrets beyond our ken. Next he attempts to take a picture of Georgiana (why, I'm not sure) but it comes out blurry--only the birthmark is distinct. This has a touch of the ghostly to it, but maybe he just shook his camera a bit, being so nervous, causing the image to blur, and because he's so fixated on the birthmark, he still sees it there, despite the blurriness. Next, he brags of an elixir capable of extending life, then of a potion composed of an essence capable of impregnating all the air--he sprinkles some in the lab as a demonstration. He shows her another potion that removes freckles; but insists that it is merely superficial and that her case will require something far "deeper." Our scientist never seems more the quack than during these episodes. It would be interesting to know how Hawthorne's audience received these descriptions, whether they deemed Aylmer mad or not. Perhaps they recognized Alymer's fantastic powers as just that, and willfuly suspended their disbelief.


Further web study

Nathaniel Hawthorne Page at bartleby.com

Hawthorne and the Craft of the Short Story

Hawthorne's Women

 

 

 

     

 


Questions? Contact me.

All materials unless otherwise indicated are copyright © 2001-2003 by Stacy Tartar Esch.
FALL 2001 site is available at BRAINSTORM-SERVICES.COM
The original contents of this site may not be reproduced, republished, reused, or retransmitted
without the express written consent of Stacy Tartar Esch.
These contents are for educational purposes only.