The Birth-Mark

The Birth-Mark Summary and Analysis of Part 2: "If she were my wife, I'd never part with that birthmark."


The following day, Aylmer details his plan to Georgiana. They will "seclude themselves in the extensive apartments occupied by Aylmer as a laboratory," where he has spent his life making discoveries about various aspects of the physical world: volcanoes, clouds, mines, and fountains (156). The narrator explains that Aylmer has also devoted his studies to more spiritual matters, such as Nature’s creation of man. The narrator elaborates, "Here, too, at an earlier period, he had...attempted to fathom the very process by which Nature assimilates all her precious influences from earth and air, and from the spiritual world, to create and foster man, her masterpiece"(156). However, Aylmer’s attempts to understand and create life were unsuccessful, as Nature is "severely careful to keep her own secrets," and does not permit men to create life from scratch (156). To discover a scheme to remove Georgiana’s birthmark, though, Aylmer will resume these enigmatic investigations.

Aylmer leads a nervous Georgiana into his laboratory. Aylmer attempts to calm his wife’s nerves and look "cheerfully into her face," but he accidentally shudders at her after spotting her birthmark (156). Georgiana immediately faints afterward, and Aylmer shouts for Aminadab, his assistant, to help him.

The narrator then explains Aminadab’s grotesque, earthy appearance at length: he has a short stature, a "bulky frame," "shaggy hair," and a vast amount of physical strength (157). Aminadab has worked under Aylmer for the scientist’s entire career. However, Aminadab doesn’t understand any of the details or principles behind Aylmer's work; instead, he simply follows his employer’s instructions. According to the narrator, Aminadab represents "man’s physical nature," which contrasts with Aylmer’s spiritual intellect and slender, pale appearance (157). Aylmer asks Aminadab to burn incense to wake up Georgiana, and the servant obliges. As Aminadab gazes at Georgiana’s unconscious body, he mutters, "If she were my wife, I'd never part with that birthmark" (157).

Georgiana regains consciousness in a beautiful, ornate room prepared by Aylmer. With curtains surrounding the walls, the room isolates Georgiana from the world. The narrator explains that Aylmer excludes sunlight from entering his laboratory—it would interfere with his experiments—so he relies on perfumed lamps to illuminate the room. Kneeling by his wife’s side, Aylmer confidently thinks about how his own intellect and scientific gifts will keep her safe.

As Georgiana wakes up, she initially cannot remember where she is, and she instinctively places "her hand over her cheek to hide the terrible mark" from Aylmer (158). Aylmer attempts to reassure Georgiana, saying, "Do not shrink from me! Believe me, Georgiana, I even rejoice in this single imperfection, since it will be such a rapture to remove it" (158). In other words, Aylmer now takes pleasure in gazing at the birthmark, as he will be able to erase it soon.

In an attempt to soothe Georgiana, Aylmer shows her some of his creations: "airy figures, absolutely bodiless ideas, and forms of unsubstantial beauty" (158). These optical illusions, while "almost perfect enough to warrant the belief that her husband possessed sway over the spiritual world," fail to entertain Georgiana, who wishes to end her secluded state (158). Aylmer then conjures moving, realistic scenes of the outside world, and Georgiana becomes moved by his abilities.

Next, Aylmer hands Georgiana a pile of dirt, which rapidly grows into a blossoming plant—"a perfect and lovely flower" (158). Aylmer urges Georgiana to pluck and smell the flower, as it will die momentarily. As soon as Georgiana touches the plant, it turns "coal-black as if by the agency of fire" and dies (158). Aylmer justifies the failed experiment, stating it was simply the result of an overly powerful stimulus.

To atone for the plant’s death, Aylmer attempts to make a portrait of Georgiana with a plate of metal in a process akin to early photography. As they look at the results of the portrait, they notice that the image turns out blurry except for the hand shape of Georgiana’s birthmark. Angered and embarrassed, Aylmer snatches the plate and throws it into a jar of corrosive acid.

To take a break from his experiments, Aylmer often visits Georgiana and lectures her about alchemy, a science that tries to purify ordinary objects, materials, and metals into gold. Aylmer believes anyone gifted enough to achieve the feats of alchemy would not exercise its immoral powers. Aylmer harbors similar feelings toward an elixir vitae, a potion that could render a drinker immortal. He believes he could conjure one, but admits he would be violating the ways of Nature and curse the drinker in the process. A shocked Georgiana earnestly asks Aylmer why he would even consider chasing this sort of power, but Aylmer attempts to reassure her by stating, "I would not wrong either you or myself by working such inharmonious effects upon our lives…" (159). Aylmer further elaborates that he only brought up the elixir vitae to show how "trifling" and insignificant his experiments with Georgiana’s birthmark are in comparison (159).

After hours of absence in his laboratory, Aylmer presents Georgiana with his current poisons and potions, including a perfume "capable of impregnating all the breezes that blow across a kingdom" (159). Georgiana then points to a small vial containing a gold-colored liquid and claims, "It [the substance] is so beautiful to the eye that I could imagine it the elixir of life" (159). Aylmer then tells her the potion is rather "the elixir of immortality," and it is among one of the most potent poisons "ever concocted in this world" (159). The poison, according to Aylmer, allows him to control with precision the lifespan of the person who drinks it—Aylmer could even use it on a king if he felt it would benefit the populace. Horrified, Georgiana asks Aylmer, "Why do you keep such a terrific drug?" to which Aylmer replies, "...its virtuous potency is yet greater than its harmful one," thus implying that the poison isn’t inherently evil (160).

Aylmer then shows Georgiana a "powerful cosmetic" that can erase freckles and other minor blemishes (160). Georgiana asks Aylmer if he intends to use the lotion to remove her birthmark, but Aylmer asserts that her birthmark requires a stronger remedy.

The narrator details how Aylmer often conducts interviews with Georgiana, asking about her physical and emotional states. Georgiana believes Aylmer has already been subjecting her to "certain physical influences" via the doctoring of her food and the breathing of the fragrance-heavy air (160). She has also been enduring strange sensations in her body, which make her veins and heart feel uneasy. In spite of this, the birthmark’s appearance has not changed. At this point, Georgiana can barely stand to look at her mark in the mirror, for she disdains it even more than Aylmer does.


Once Aylmer and Georgiana arrive at Aylmer’s laboratory, the story’s major conflict—Aylmer’s morbid obsession with Georgiana’s birthmark—begins to evolve, as do the major characters’ arcs.

As we saw in Section 1, Aylmer is a narcissistic husband who can’t bear the sight of his beautiful wife’s singular physical blemish: her birthmark. When asked about the birthmark, Aylmer foregrounds his visceral repulsion toward it, and he does not consider how his harsh critiques of Georgiana's imperfection will psychologically impact her sense of self-worth. When Georgiana begins to express her uneasiness about her husband’s feelings toward her birthmark, he feeds into her anxieties; he says the birthmark shocks him and readily admits that he often thinks about removing it.

In the beginning of Section 2, Aylmer’s entitled behavior continues—he moves Georgiana into his laboratory and isolates her in the ornate room he has prepared for her. However, when he notices how the laboratory begins to overwhelm Georgiana to the point of illness, he becomes attentive to her needs, rather than his own, for the first time in the text. Much of this section is taken up by Aylmer’s attempts to appease and relax an ill, anxious Georgiana: he makes a portrait of her, gives her the magical flower, conjures optical illusions, and creates realistic scenes of the outside world. His efforts to entertain and care for his wife exhibit a previously unforeseen regard for his wife’s emotional well being.

While Aylmer is displaying a rare compassion toward his wife, his kind gestures rely on his own scientific skills and creations instead of his personality or charms. In other words, Aylmer depends on science to show passion for Georgiana—his relationship with her cannot be separated from his own scientific endeavors. This conflation between science and Georgiana, his two passions, was previously evoked in the beginning of the story where the narrator explains, “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). This "intertwining" between science and love emerges as a central theme. As Aylmer brings Georgiana into his laboratory, he begins to view her as one of the subjects of his own experiments. As part of the birthmark treatment, he interviews her, subjects her to “certain physical influences,” and secludes her in the room so he can monitor her behavior. So although we do witness the deepening of Aylmer’s character, we also see how he willingly allows his own interest in science to suffuse his relationship with Georgiana.

Part 2 also importantly introduces Aminadab, the only other character in the story aside from Georgiana and Aylmer. While Aminadab initially seems like a minor, unnerving character, his presence in the story is latent with symbolic meanings. First, his name, “Aminadab,” is also the name of a priest in the Bible. Because of this, Aminadab’s name infuses his character with religious undertones, which become all the more evident in his compassion toward Georgiana and his acceptance of her birthmark (157). His religious characterization starkly contrasts with Aylmer, who is completely identified with science.

When Hawthorne wrote “The Birth-Mark” in the first half of the 1800s, science was popularized among American people, and religion was becoming less omnipresent in people’s day-to-day lives. As respective stand-ins for religion and science, Aminadab and Aylmer’s dynamic dramatizes the ideological setting and phenomena of Hawthorne’s time. Aminadab, representing the ideals of a religious man, doesn’t understand Aylmer’s procedures and remains subordinate to him, a scientist. Aminadab is no match for Aylmer's extensive knowledge and surly confidence to undermine him—just as religion struggled to rival science’s claims to rational authority.

However, Aminadab’s comment, “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark” does challenge Aylmer’s specific type of profane scientific inquiry. In this instance, we see how Aminadab possesses more humanity, wisdom, and empathy than Aylmer, even though he can’t understand Aylmer’s science. As a religious figure, Aminadab accepts humanity for all of its faults, which opposes science’s supposed neutrality on humankind. Because he has lost sight of basic humility and flaws intrinsic to mankind, Aylmer believes he can use science to change human nature. Aminadab, meanwhile, eschews this God-complex and instead accepts humans—in this case, Georgiana—as they are. As a representative of “man’s physical nature,” Aminadab recognizes his earthiness and thereby tolerates the perceived faults of human mortality as despised by Aylmer (157). Aminadab and Aylmer's parallels, therefore, are emblematic of the story's major theme of religion vs. science, which bleakly culminates in Part 3.