The Birth-Mark

The Birth-Mark Summary and Analysis of Part 3: "Do not repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer."


While Aylmer works, Georgiana reads books in her husband’s library. These books document the revolutionary achievements of famous philosophers of the Middle Ages like Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus. The narrator notes that these men were ahead of their times and as such believed they possessed power over nature and the spiritual world. Because of this, they were oblivious to how Nature puts forth limits on scientific studies.

Georgiana takes particular interest in Aylmer’s detailed journals, which chronicle "every experiment of his scientific career, its original aim, the methods adopted for its development, and its final success or failure, with the circumstances to which either event was attributable" (161). The journals are a testament to Aylmer’s steadfast ambition and intellect, and they illustrate how he often sees spiritual significance in his physical experiments. As Georgiana continues to read these journals, she realizes Aylmer’s experiments usually fail to achieve his expectations and aims—"...she could not but observe that his most splendid successes were almost invariably failures" (161). The narrator acknowledges that the failures of his experiments stem from his human imperfections and overweening ambition. Georgiana becomes profoundly moved by her husband’s melancholic confessions of inadequacy, as they affirm his own humanity and flaws. As a result, Georgiana gains more respect and love for Aylmer than she ever had before.

Aylmer catches Georgiana crying over his journals. With a smile on his face yet a displeased demeanor, Aylmer urges Georgiana to stop reading his journals. He tells her, "It is dangerous to read in a sorcerer's books...Georgiana, there are pages in that volume which I can scarcely glance over and keep my senses. Take heed lest it prove as detrimental to you," to which Georgiana replies, "It has made me worship you more than ever" (161). Aylmer encourages her to suspend her praise and admiration of him until he successfully removes the birthmark. He then asks Georgiana to sing for him, and she happily obliges.

A few hours later, Georgiana realizes she forgot to inform Aylmer about a strange sensation occurring around her birthmark. Aylmer has already returned to his laboratory, so she decides to intrude there and notify him of her unusual feelings of restlessness. When she arrives in the lab, she becomes fascinated by all of the machines, materials, and instruments used by her husband. She also notices the "oppressively close" atmosphere of the laboratory, as well as its unpleasant odors (162). From afar, she watches an anxious Aylmer give Aminadab instructions, all the while noticing how his uneasy presence contrasts with his usual cheery and sanguine demeanor.

Aminadab notices Georgiana and notifies Aylmer of her presence. Enraged, Aylmer demands that she leave, exclaiming, "Why do you come hither? Have you no trust in your husband?...Go, prying woman, go!" (162). Georgiana firmly refuses to leave and accuses Aylmer of "concealed [ing] the anxiety" surrounding the experiment from her (162). She urges him to give honest accounts about the development of the experiment, rather than deceive her. She also asserts that she will submit to Aylmer and drink whatever "draught you bring me"(163).

Impressed by Georgiana’s blind faith in him, Aylmer reveals that he has been trying to remove the birthmark without success, as Georgiana’s birthmark goes deep into her body and thus requires drastic treatments. Aylmer hesitantly admits that there’s only one option left to attempt, and it will be dangerous. A protesting Georgiana demands Aylmer to remove the birthmark no matter the consequence, as its continued presence will pose a real threat to their sanity and happiness. Aylmer says Georgiana is right and asks her to return to her room and rest.

In her room, an overwhelmed Georgiana fondly thinks of Aylmer. She admires his pursuit of perfection and his refusal to accept her for her natural appearance. To Georgiana, Aylmer’s insistence on cultivating an ideal version of her is noble. She deeply desires to satisfy him, even if just for a single moment.

Georgiana hears the sound of Aylmer’s footsteps. He enters the room with a colorless liquid and assures Georgiana that " [the potion] cannot fail" (163). Georgiana states that she’s morally aware of her faults but lacks the strength to rectify them, which leaves her perpetually unhappy. Because of this, Georgiana feels convinced that she would rather die than live if it weren’t for her husband. Aylmer rhetorically asks Georgiana, "But why do we speak of dying?" thus implying that his solution is so perfect that it could not possibly cause her death (164). To demonstrate the liquid’s potency and strength, he pours it over a geranium plant with yellow blotches on its leaves. The plant’s blemishes fade almost instantaneously.

Georgiana claims that she trusts Aylmer and therefore didn’t need his demonstration to prove the liquid’s power. She proceeds to drink the liquid and compliments its "unobtrusive fragrance and deliciousness" (164). After praising the liquid’s allaying of a "feverish thirst that had parched me for many days," Georgiana gently falls asleep (164). Aylmer examines her anxiously yet tenderly while he records all of his observations into his journal. He impulsively kisses the birthmark, only to recoil from it immediately afterward. The birthmark eventually fades, and the narrator compares its departure to "the stain of the rainbow fading out of the sky" (165). A joyous Aylmer enthusiastically declares the liquid, and the experiment, a success.

Aylmer pulls back a curtain and endures the entrance of natural light in Georgiana’s room. The sunlight rests on Georgiana’s pale cheek, while Aylmer hears a "gross, hoarse chuckle" from Aminadab (165). (Aylmer recognizes Aminadab’s laughter as his signature "expression of delight" [165]). Aylmer congratulates Aminadab, declaring, "...ah! Earthy mess!…you have served me well! Matter and spirit—earth and heaven—have both done their part in this!" (165). Aylmer’s exclamations wake up Georgiana, who looks at her reflection in a mirror. She smiles at the sight of the faded birthmark, but soon anxiously looks at Aylmer.

Georgiana expresses pity for Aylmer ("My poor Aylmer!"), which confuses Aylmer, who insists that Georgiana is perfect now (165). Georgiana then commends Aylmer’s ambition and noble efforts, even though he has rejected "the best the earth could offer" in the process (165). She then proclaims that she’s dying. The narrator explains how Georgiana’s birthmark kept her spirit attached to a body. Because the birthmark has disappeared, she is no longer human, so her soul must pass “into the atmosphere” and die (165). Aminadab laughs again. The narrator notes the unshakable power of mortality on Earth and claims that if Aylmer had reached a “profounder wisdom,” he wouldn’t have “flung away the happiness which would have woven his mortal life of the selfsame texture with the celestial” (166). In other words, Aylmer’s marriage could have resulted in him becoming close to a divine being, but he could not appreciate Georgiana for who she was, nor could he accept earth’s imperfections. He lost his best chance at perfection.


Georgiana’s death is upsetting, but it is not unexpected. From the start, we have been lead to expect it as the inevitable culmination of Aylmer’s dubious striving for perfection. Several events have heavy-handedly foreshadowed Georgiana’s tragic fate, resulting in a conclusion that feels fairly predictable and “safe.” In the opening paragraph, the narrator notes that Aylmer’s passion for Georgiana could possibly rival his love for science—if the “strengths” of these two passions unite. Since Georgiana essentially becomes one of Aylmer’s scientific subjects, this comment alone hints at Aylmer’s foreboding interest in conflating his marriage and his scientific passions, which climaxes in the calamitous execution of the birthmark experiment.

Aylmer’s dream also foreshadows the doomed outcomes of the birthmark’s removal. As Aylmer attempts to surgically cut out the birthmark, he discovers that the birthmark is connected to her heart and cuts it out. The dream thus communicates the danger of removing the birthmark, which becomes realized in the story’s finale. The dream also suggests the symbolic inseparability of Georgiana's birthmark and her physical being. The final scene confirms that Georgiana’s birthmark is indeed a symbol for her humanity and mortality, as she dies soon after it fades off her cheek. In other words, Georgiana’s death scene closely adheres to what is foreshadowed in the dream.

Other, more minor instances of foreshadowing saturate the story: Georgiana immediately faints upon viewing Aylmer’s lab, and the magical flower—one of Aylmer’s creations—dies as soon as she touches it. Also, Georgiana asserts her loyalty to Aylmer by claiming, “I shall quaff whatever draught you bring me...induce me to take a dose of poison if offered by your hand” (163, italics added). (At the end of the story, Georgiana ostensibly drinks poison, as Aylmer’s liquid leads to her unfortunate demise.) The constant exposure to disconcerting events portends the story's deadly conclusion, and as a result, Georgiana’s death strikes us as an unsurprising and perhaps underwhelming. Even though Georgiana’s death is not as thrilling or shocking as most audiences would hope, it is still potent with symbolism.

Early in Part 3 of “The Birth-Mark,” we learn that even the most successful of Aylmer’s experiments often fail in some capacity. The outcome of his birthmark experiment confirms Aylmer’s dual brilliance and inadequacy. Yes, he successfully removes her birthmark, but Georgiana dies as a result. Georgiana’s ill-fated death illuminates Aylmer’s lack of wisdom and the perils of his striving for perfection. By ridding Georgiana of her birthmark—the external signifier of her imperfection—Aylmer also strips her of her humanity. Without her birthmark, Georgiana is no longer a flawed being, and she is now too ideal of a being to occupy a world full of humans.

So, in his pursuit to improve his wife, Aylmer destroys her. Since the beginning of the story, we have seen how Aylmer regards human flaws as objects that can become scientifically reformed and fixed. While Georgiana is a nearly flawless specimen, Aylmer exerts all his attention on her birthmark. Rather than accept the flaw as a natural attribute of the human condition, Aylmer feels compelled to use science to modify and remove it, as if he possesses a God-like power. Essentially, Aylmer believes in the practicability of perfection; likewise, his most critical hamartia or fatal flaw lies, ironically, in his inability to recognize the weaknesses and faults pervasive in humanity.

Critically, by the conclusion of the story, Aylmer comes to terms with neither his delusional beliefs in perfection nor his mistreatment of Georgiana. Instead, it is Georgiana who acknowledges and expresses pity toward Aylmer’s God-complex and ignorant worldview. Moments before she dies, she tells Aylmer, “Do not repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer” (165). Here, Georgiana reattains her self-confidence that was exhibited in the beginning of the story, but gradually vanished after Aylmer’s cruel dismissals of her birthmark. Through her recognition of herself as “the best the earth could offer” that Aylmer rebuffs, Georgiana illuminates how Aylmer’s definition of “the best”—notions of human perfection and superiority—contrasts with common, earthly definitions of “the best” (165). By most standards, Georgiana represents both the physical and spiritual supremacy rare in humanity; she's both physically beautiful and selfless. However, Aylmer cannot accept this version of “the best” and thus convinces his wife to submit to his own criteria and vision of “the best”—unequivocal, absolute perfection.

Georgiana’s death, then, is a fitting conclusion for Hawthorne’s moralistic story. It is a summation of several of the story’s themes, including the necessity of man’s inherent flaws and the limitations of science. Aylmer’s futile search for perfection denies Georgiana her own shortcomings and, in turn, her humanity, which explains the fatal outcome of the experiment. Imperfections are deeply embedded within us, and to live without them would no longer make us human. Human beings, therefore, are necessarily flawed, and perfection exists exclusively for divine beings not fit for earth.

Also, throughout “The Birth-Mark,” science and nature clash with each other. Even before he embarks on his birthmark experiment, Aylmer has sought to control life just as Nature does. However, as the narrator warns, Nature is “severely careful to keep her owns secrets,” which has prohibited Aylmer from truly understanding and creating life in his experiments (156). Even more obviously, Aylmer refuses to accept Georgiana as Nature made her, and he uses science to modify her. However, science does not enable Aylmer to prolong Georgiana’s life or remove her birthmark produced by Nature (without serious ramifications). When he attempts to manipulate and control Nature, Georgiana dies, which signifies a triumph of Nature over science. As seen in Georgiana’s death and Aylmer’s other failed experiments, Hawthorne dismisses the notion of science’s ability to explain, solve, and discover the mysteries of Nature. Nature creates mankind, and it will always remain more inscrutable and powerful than any sort of scientific inquiry or man-made constructions.