These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community.
We are thankful of their contributions and encourage you to make your own.
Written by Victoria Joss
Aylmer is a scientist, and more traditionally an alchemist, a scientist that uses medieval techniques of science. He is described as very accomplished, yet one who has had failures as well as successes, ominously foreshadowing another failure in Hawthorne’s short story. Specifically, he believes it is possible to concoct the ‘elixir vitae’, an elixir that will prolong one’s life. Aylmer is obsessive about his science, and the narrator comments that ‘he has devoted himself […] to unreservedly to scientific studies ever to be weaned from them by any second passion’. He does temporarily ‘washes the acid stains’ from his fingers and attempts a second passion with a wife, Georgiana. However, she only becomes another scientific subject to him, and he is obsessed with removing a red, hand shaped birthmark on her cheek. Whilst other men find it charming, Aylmer sees it as an imperfection on an otherwise perfect specimen. He is overly pragmatic, and ignores a symbolic dream that warns him removing Georgiana’s birthmark will kill her. It is, however, the ultimate sign of his scientific, not emotional being, in the ending. Georgiana is dying due to his attempts to rid her skin of the mark. Instead of concern for her safety, he can only exclaim words of scientific triumph: ‘My peerless bride, it is successful! You are perfect.’ Therefore, experimental success remains the most important factor, not his wife’s life.
Georgiana is Aylmer’s bride, and poor victim to his obsessive science that engulfs both their lives. Georgiana is an incredibly accepting, and patient wife to Aylmer, so much so that some critics class her as submissive. She cannot seem to escape Aylmer’s scientific pursuits, and even the apartment that Aylmer has set up for her becomes increasingly representative of a laboratory. The curtains ‘appeared to shut in the scene from infinite space’, creating the same sense of claustrophobia. Throughout the short story, her self-confidence at her previously praised appearance plummets, and she begins to resent the birthmark even more than Aylmer does. Therefore, whilst she points out to Aylmer the dangers and is perhaps fully aware she will die, she is swept up in his hysteria and consents to the experiment. It is perhaps an alien response to any modern reader that Georgiana will lay down her life for Aylmer’s happiness, offering no argument to his keen experimentation.
Aminadab is Aylmer’s lab assistant, and cruel commentator on his failures. He is ‘a man of low stature with shaggy hair hanging around his visage’ and described more as a lower class ‘servant’. He is also later described as having ‘uncouth, misshapen tones’, presenting him as less than even human, and more a beast with one purpose, to serve Aylmer. He disapproves of Aylmer’s quest for perfection, and comments that if Georgiana were his wife, he would not part with the dreaded birthmark. His cruelest part is played at the end. Georgiana is dying, and he lets out an ‘expression of delight’ that he is proved right, that Aylmer’s search for perfection is not worth a life.
Update this section!
You can help us out by revising, improving and updating
The story was set in the late 1700's. Superstition and clinical science were still a part of each other. Science, as it were understood at the time, was slowly taking hold of the world: even above God. The story reflects this theme.