The Birth-Mark

The Birth-Mark Irony

The removal of the birthmark (situational irony)

Before Georgiana drinks Aylmer’s elixir, Aylmer asserts its supposed perfection and claims, "the draught can not fail." To prove its effectiveness, he even pours the solution over a geranium with blemished leaves, which successfully fade. Georgiana’s death thus ironically subverts audience expectations: because of Aylmer’s declarations and demonstrations, we are set up to believe that the liquid will remove Georgiana’s birthmark without harming her. However, the story proceeds to prove the opposite. Yes, Georgiana’s birthmark does fade, but its departure renders her too perfect to continue living on earth. The situational irony, therefore, reveals the perils of Aylmer’s experiments and his dubious quest for perfection, which evidently can only be achieved in death.

Georgiana's beauty (situational irony)

Aylmer may be a fiercely intelligent scientist, but he lacks the ethical wisdom to accept the imperfections intrinsic to humanity. Aylmer has married Georgiana, a lovely and nearly perfect woman, but he cannot get over her birthmark, her sole physical flaw. Situational irony thus saturates Aylmer’s relationship with Georgiana’s beauty. Because he is Georgiana’s husband, we expect Almer to unconditionally love Georgiana—just as her previous admirers have—and value her near-flawlessness. However, as a man obsessed with perfection, Aylmer ironically disdains Georgiana’s extreme attractiveness, as her beauty only intensifies his resentment of the birthmark.

The narrator remarking, “...its departure was more awful still. Watch the stain of the rainbow fading out the sky, and you will know how that mysterious symbol passed away" (165) (situational irony)

After Georgiana’s birthmark vanishes, the narrator makes the above comment, which compares the departure of the birthmark with the solemn imagery of a rainbow “fading out of the sky.” This comparison is latent with irony—throughout the story, the birthmark has lead to anxiety, dread, unhappiness, and torment among Aylmer and Georgiana. Due to the birthmark’s negative connotation and role throughout the story, we might expect its removal to be an upbeat, relieving event, one that revitalizes Aylmer and Georgiana's marriage. However, by deeming the birthmark’s removal “awful” and equating it to the fading of a rainbow, the narrator undermines these assumptions. As a result, the situational irony instills dread and confusion within the audience as we approach the story’s tragic resolution.