The Birthmark: A Psychological Short Story Essay

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“The Birthmark” – a Psychological Short Story Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” may require a psychoanalyst to properly interpret because it is indeed a “psychological” short story in its themes and approach to character portrayal - and this essay will amply demonstrate these assertions. Henry Seidel Canby in “A Skeptic Incompatible with His Time and His Past” talks about the value of Hawthorne’s “literary psychology”: This irreverent generation [of the 1950’s] has mocked at Hawthorne’s struggling souls who torture themselves over peccadilloes like adultery and are morally wrecked by obsessions that (so it is assumed) any good psychoanalyst could remove. Studies in nerves seem to us more important than studies in…show more content…
. . .” (43) Edmund Fuller and B. Jo Kinnick in “Stories Derived from New England Living” state that Hawthorne liked to “explore uncertainties of belief that trouble a man’s heart and mind” (31). Clarice Swisher in “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography” states that Hawthorne’s interest tended toward the heart and the psychological effects of these moral and ethical issues” (13). A. N. Kaul considers Hawthorne “preeminently a ‘psychological’” writer – “burrowing, to his utmost ability, into the depths of our common nature, for the purposes of psychological romance. . . . He was deeply preoccupied with the modern themes of alienation, isolation, and guilt consciousness – and with modern spiritual problems generally” (2). There appears to be more agreement among literary critics regarding the interpretation of Hawthorne as a “psychological” writer than upon any other aspect of his writing. Now let’s establish the themes in this short story, “The Birthmark,” and select the dominant theme. The theme is the “general concept or doctrine, whether implicit or asserted, which an imaginative work is designed to incorporate and make persuasive to the reader” (Abrams 170). Morse Peckham in “The Development of Hawthorne’s Romanticism” explains what he interprets Hawthorne’s main theme to be in his short stories: “Henceforth Hawthorne’s theme is the redemption of the self through the acceptance and exploitation of what society terms
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