“It [the birthmark] was the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her productions, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain” (153-4).
Here, the narrator explains what Georgiana’s birthmark represents to Aylmer. The birthmark is not a mere blemish on Georgiana’s otherwise perfect face; rather, to Aylmer, it signifies the flaws intrinsic to mankind. Notably, Nature “stamps” flaws “on all of her productions” to remind us of not only our imperfections, but our inevitable mortality—our “temporary and finite" lifespans (153). This quote thus underlines Aylmer’s motivations for artificially removing Georgiana’s birthmark; he rejects human mortality and fallibilities, which, according to him, manifest themselves in the birthmark.
Also, the quote sets up the essential conflict between Nature and science. Aylmer, who represents the bastion of science, resists Nature for bearing imperfections on its creations, and he believes his experiments can “fix” Nature’s mistakes.
“If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark” (157).
This comment challenges Aylmer’s immoral use of science and his inability to appreciate Georgiana as Nature created her. Aminadab compassionately displays a wisdom that Aylmer lacks: flaws and sins pervade mankind, and we should accept this as a fact of life, rather than fighting it. The quote thus juxtaposes Aminadab’s toleration of human nature with Aylmer’s absurd pursuit for perfection. As a result, this quote enables Aminadab to emerge as the more empathetic and humane character of the pair.
“Had Aylmer reached a profounder wisdom, he need not thus have flung away the happiness which would have woven his mortal life of the selfsame texture with the celestial. The momentary circumstance was too strong for him; he failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of time, and, living once for all in eternity, to find the perfect future in the present.” (166).
These are the two final lines of “The Birth-Mark,” and they encapsulate the narrator’s moralistic and didactic tone. The narrator criticizes Aylmer’s inability to find “the perfect future in the present”—in other words, his failure to appreciate and find happiness with Georgiana's near-flawlessness. Throughout the entire story, Aylmer’s lack of wisdom has blinded him from the immoral act of attempting to “fix” a human’s imperfections. Georgiana’s death, as the narrator explains here, is thus the natural consequence of Aylmer’s obliviousness and refusal to accept the faults pervasive in humanity. By removing Georgiana’s birthmark, Aylmer also rids her of her humanity. Without the mark, she is too perfect to even inhabit the same world as other humans—an outcome Aylmer couldn’t foresee, or even consider, due to his own delusions and obsession with perfection.
“His love for his young wife might prove the stronger of the two; but it could only be by intertwining itself with his love of science, and uniting the strength of the latter to his own” (152).
Here, the narrator notes that Aylmer’s love for Georgiana could potentially rival his love for science, as long as the “strength” of these passions unite. This quote foreshadows Aylmer’s conflation of marriage and his scientific passions—as the disturbing events of the story unfold, Aylmer becomes less and less able to separate his love for Georgiana from his love for science. When he brings her to his laboratory, he treats her as one of the subjects of his experiments: he interviews her, subjects her to “certain physical influences,” and secludes her in the boudoir to monitor her behavior and isolate her from the outside world. “His love for his young wife” therefore does indeed become intertwined “with his love of science,” just as the quote predicts.
“Do not repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer” (165).
Georgiana speaks this comment to Aylmer moments before she dies. Here, she exudes a self-confidence exhibited at the beginning of the story—before Aylmer’s obsession with her birthmark prompted a severe dip in self-esteem. Because she identifies herself as “the best the earth could offer,” which Aylmer “rejected,” Georgiana recognizes that Aylmer’s standard of “the best”—the ideals he desires to achieve—outstrip what could possibly exist on earth.
By most definitions, Georgiana represents a rare physical and spiritual excellence; she is both a physically beautiful and warm, kind-hearted person. However, due to her birthmark, Aylmer refuses to accept this as “the best” and will settle for nothing less than absolute perfection. Georgiana identifies the impossibility of his standards and, as such, regains some much-needed agency in her final moments.
"He had fancied himself with his servant Aminadab, attempting an operation for the removal of the birthmark; 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” (155).
The contents of Aylmer’s dream, as described in the above quote, foreshadow the dismal outcome of the birthmark’s removal. The imagery of the knife deeply penetrating Georgiana’s heart suggests that her imperfections are inseparable from her very being. Also, the image of Aylmer resolving “to cut or wrench it [Georgiana’s heart]” invokes the dangers of removing the birthmark, which are fully realized in the story’s tragic final scene.
"Even Pygmalion, when his sculptured woman assumed life, felt not greater ecstasy than mine will be" (156).
Aylmer makes this dramatic allusion after Georgiana urges him to remove her birthmark, and it is emblematic of his unbridled arrogance and obliviousness. In comparing himself to Pygmalion (the mythological figure who saw one of his beloved sculptures come to life), Aylmer boosts his own ability to sculpt an ideal woman, which in turn evokes his own outlandish ambitions and arrogance. Aylmer hasn’t even begun the researching stage of his experiment, yet he is already irrevocably convinced of its success. He goes so far as to claim that he will feel great “ecstasy” when he successfully removes the birthmark, which underlines how his pursuit for ego-fulfillment is one of his primary reasons for embarking on his immoral experiment. By comparing his intellect and scientific abilities to Pygmalion, this quote illustrates Aylmer’s unchecked confidence and blind ambition.
The Birth-Mark Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Birth-Mark is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
I'm not sure what you mean. Judging by Georgiana's reaction to her husband's demands, we can infer that as a "good wife", she did as her husband requested. The mid-1800s were definitely a time of patriarchy and submissive wives.