The Birth-Mark

The Birth-Mark Imagery

Aminadab's appearance (visual imagery)

"Forthwith there issued from an inner apartment a man of low stature, but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage, which was grimed with the vapors of the furnace."

In the introduction to Aminadab, Hawthorne at first focuses on the grotesque aspects of his appearance. From visual signifers like “bulky frame” and “shaggy hair,” we can infer that Aylmer’s earthy physicality greatly contrasts with Georgiana’s beauty and Aylmer’s spiritual appearance. In this regard, Hawthorne positions Aminadab as Other and intrinsically different from our protagonists.

Aylmer's dream (visual imagery)

“...but the deeper went the knife, the deeper sank the hand, until at length its tiny grasp appeared to have caught hold of Georgiana's heart; whence, however, her husband was inexorably resolved to cut or wrench it away.”

Here, the narrator describes the disturbing contents of Aylmer’s dream. Through the visual imagery of Aylmer deeply penetrating the knife into Georgiana’s body in an attempt to remove her birthmark, we become aware of the inseparability between Georgiana’s birthmark and her very being. This imagery evokes Aylmer’s repressed obsessions and reveals the lengths Aylmer will go to remove the birthmark—to “cut or wrench” his wife’s own heart away.

Georgiana's room (olfactory imagery)

“When Georgiana recovered consciousness she found herself breathing an atmosphere of penetrating fragrance, the gentle potency of which had recalled her from her deathlike faintness.”

Here, Hawthorne first relies on potent fragrance, rather than any sort of visual imagery, to introduce Georgiana’s boudoir. By emphasizing the room’s “atmosphere of penetrating fragrance,” audiences receive an image of an enclosed, artificial—but not necessarily unpleasant—environment. In turn, this imagery effectively immerses us in Georgiana’s head-space as she awakes from her "deathlike faintness" in an unfamiliar place.

Aylmer's dream (visual imagery)

“It needed but a glance with the peculiar expression that his face often wore to change the roses of her cheek into a deathlike paleness, amid which the crimson hand was brought strongly out, like a bass-relief of ruby on the whitest marble.”

Out of all the visual descriptions of Georgiana’s pale face and crimson birthmark, this quote might stand as the most striking. Aylmer’s gaze at Georgiana prompts her normally rosy cheeks to be replaced with “deathlike paleness,” which makes her birthmark’s presence especially noticeable. Georgiana’s facial transformation is compared to a “bass-relief of ruby on the whitest marble.” Through the likening of her pale skin to marble and her birthmark to a ruby, we imagine Georgiana’s appearance as unusual and somewhat macabre. Critically, Hawthorne relies on these dehumanizing signifers (“ruby” and “whitest marble”) to invoke Georgiana’s hyper-self-conscious concern over Aylmer’s gaze and resentment over her birthmark.