The Psychological Dimension of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Birthmark

3161 Words13 Pages
The Psychological Dimension of “The Birthmark”

This essay will analyze Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” in order to demonstrate that it is a “psychological” short story both in its themes and in its emphasis on the moral-psychological aspect of the main characters.

There is probably unanimity among literary critics that Hawthorne is a “psychological” writer. Consider some of their statements chosen at random from various critiques of Hawthorne’s literary works: Stanley T. Williams in “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind” says:

What he wrote of New England was . . . .the subconscious mind of New England. It was. . . . unforgettable case histories of men and women afflicted by guilt, or, as he called it, by “a stain
…show more content…
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 the guilt of the individual but which to the Romantic is society’s guilt (92). This psychological theme is very much present in “The Birthmark.” Georgiana feels guilt because of the curious hand-shaped birthmark on her cheek; Ayler feels guilt because of his failed experiemnts both early in life and later, including the killing of Georgiana; Aminadab experiences guilt from the loathful expressions which his master uses in reference to the servant.

But is guilt the main theme? Clarice Swisher comments: ”When Hawthorne called his stories ‘romances,’ he meant that they belong within the romantic movement that . . . . emphasize imagination and personal freedom” (18). Where does this personal freedom lead in “TheBirthmark” except to the alienation of Aylmer from his wife in her death? He is already alienated from Aminadab, who chuckles when he sees Georgiana dying and Aylmer’s experiment failing. Is alienation the more dominant theme? Hyatt Waggoner in “Nathaniel Hawthorne” states:

Alienation is perhaps the theme he

More about The Psychological Dimension of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Birthmark

Get Access