The Birth-Mark

The Birth-Mark Literary Elements


Dark romanticism; short story

Setting and Context

The action takes place inside Aylmer’s home over the course of a few days

Narrator and Point of View

An omniscient third-person narrator presents the story's events, and often infuses the story's events and characters with their own subjectivity.

Tone and Mood

Moralistic, bleak, ominous, didactic, and remorseful

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Georgiana; Antagonist: Aylmer

Major Conflict

The most prominent conflict is Aylmer's desire to erase his wife’s birthmark and, more broadly, his fatal obsession with human perfection.


The story reaches its climax when Georgiana drinks Aylmer's liquid to remove her birthmark.


Aylmer's history of unsuccessful, risky, and dangerous experiments, along with his dream about cutting out Georgiana's birthmark and heart, foreshadows Georgiana's death. Likewise, when Georgiana faints after visiting her husband's laboratory for the first time, her doomed fate is foreshadowed.


When Aylmer tells Georgiana that the potion will have side effects, he understates its destruction, as the potion ends up killing Georgiana.


A few mythological and historical allusions appear in the story. Aylmer compares himself to Pygmalion, a famous mythological figure most associated Ovid’s /Metamorphosis/. "The Birth-Mark" also references Albertus Magnus, Cornelius Agrippa, and Paracelsus—notorious alchemists, polymaths, theologians, and/or physicians.



Georgiana's characterization of her birthmark as "fatal" provokes a paradox. On a surface level, the birthmark is hardly "fatal"—it is a perfectly normal, nonthreatening physical flaw—and to describe it as such seems absurd and contradictory. However, the birthmark paradoxically does become "fatal," as its removal prompts Georgiana's untimely death.


Aylmer and Aminadab don't parallel one another so much as they are foils for one another. Aylmer is associated with the power of thought and rationality, while Aminadab lives mostly in his body, performing physical tasks. Aylmer is disgusted by Georgina’s birthmark and cruelly rejects her. Aminadab, however, views the birthmark as a natural part of Georgiana's appearance, and he doesn't believe it should be removed. Such differences illustrate how human beings respond to imperfections—some go great lengths to erase them, while others accept them.

Metonymy and Synecdoche


Throughout the story, Hawthorne personifies Nature as the creator of all life and one of Aylmer's enemies. From the birthmark's hand-like shape to Alymer's dream of it reaching into his wife's heart, the birthmark is personified as an inseparable, living and breathing part of Georgiana. Hawthorne also personifies a furnace as a "hot and feverish worker."