The Birth-Mark

The Birth-Mark Metaphors and Similes

Senses shutting down like a rose (simile)

“My earthly senses are closing over my spirit like the leaves around the heart of a rose at sunset” (164).

After drinking Aylmer’s solution, Georgiana compares herself to a rose. This apt simile harkens back to Aylmer’s previous experiments with plants, where he attempted to control their natural conditions. Now, Georgiana identifies with a rose, as she is subject to Aylmer’s influence, just as the plants were. In this simile, Georgiana specifically uses language that connotes her impending death. Like a rose closing its petals, she is a beautiful creation of nature whose beauty is about to be hidding from the world. She connects her own final moments and the waning of her human perceptions and feelings—“My earthly senses are closing over my spirit”—to the curling of a rose’s leaves during a sunset. In other words, Georgiana recognizes her doomed fate and the similarities it shares with a flower, a product of Nature corrupted by Aylmer’s over-ambition and scientific control.

Georgiana’s faded birthmark (metaphor)

"Watch the stain of the rainbow fading out the sky, and you will know how that mysterious symbol passed away" (165).

Here, the fading of Georgiana’s birthmark is equated to the somber image of a rainbow vanishing. This metaphor constitutes situational irony. Throughout the story, the “mysterious symbol” of the birthmark has driven Aylmer and Georgiana into an unfulfilling, unhealthy marriage and existential unhappiness. Because of this, we don’t expect the birthmark’s eventual removal to be mourned and likened to the departure of rainbow. The ironic metaphor also foreshadows Georgiana’s death—it establishes that the removal of the birthmark is a bleak event, yet we don’t see precisely why until Georgiana dies.

Georgiana’s white marble face and rose-like cheek (simile)

“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” (154).

As we see in this quote, Aylmer’s gaze at Georgiana provokes her intense physical reaction—her rosy cheek turns into a “deathlike paleness,” and her crimson birthmark becomes all the more prominent in turn. The facial transformation is likened to a “bass-relief of ruby on the whitest marble.” Through the comparisons of her birthmark to a ruby and her pale skin to white marble, we know Georgiana’s appearance becomes unfamiliar and strange as soon as she notices Aylmer's stare. Hawthorne uses these dehumanizing descriptors to reveal both Georgiana’s uncanny appearance, as well as her increasing subordination to Aylmer—the mere sight of his gaze makes her appear less than human.

Sleep-induced remonstrance (simile)

"His spirit recoiled, however, in the very act, and Georgiana, out of the midst of her deep sleep, moved uneasily and murmured as if in remonstrance" (165).

While Aylmer anxiously watches Georgiana sleep after drinking his solution, he compares her uneasy movement and murmurs to a remonstrance, a forceful and fervid protest. This likening evokes the imagery of an unconscious yet unhinged Georgiana’s squirming, and, in turn, heightens the anxious, brooding atmosphere and mood of the scene. Situational irony saturates this simile. We don’t expect Georgiana’s sleep—the ultimate passive activity—to become a form of resistance. And yet, this simile undermines this assumption, all the while revealing Georgiana at her most active and enraged.