The Failure Of Dualism In The Birthmark By Nathaniel Hawthorne

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How can humans perfect ourselves? What are the repercussions of man’s desire to conquer nature’s will? In his short story, “The Birthmark”, author Nathaniel Hawthorne attempts to shed light on potential answers to these questions. He especially emphasizes the latter question, prompting his audience to wonder, “Can - and should - man attempt to “perfect” nature’s will?” when the main character, a scientist named Alymer, becomes determined to remove a birthmark from his wife’s face. Hawthorne uses Alymer’s obsession to represent dualism. Furthermore, given the fatal results of Alymer’s experiments, Hawthorne seems to suggest the failures of dualism and the untouchable monism of existence. From the beginning of the story, Hawthorne’s diction makes it clear that Alymer’s relationship with Georgiana is highly flawed, objectifying, and based considerably on her physical beauty. In fact, Hawthorne does not even use Georgiana’s name when first introducing the woman; instead, he describes her as, “a beautiful woman to become [Alymer’s] wife” (pg 1). This language foreshadows Georgiana’s predominant role in the story; she holds little significance other than being “a beautiful woman” for Alymer. Furthermore, the first dialogue between Georgiana and Alymer also centers around her physical appearance, more specifically, the one “blemish” on her face. “‘Has it never occurred to you that the mark upon your cheek might be removed?’” Alymer asks, with “a trouble in his countenance” (pg 1).

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