The Birth-Mark

The Birth-Mark Themes

The impossibility of perfection

While Georgiana’s physical appearance is nearly flawless, Aylmer fixates on her birthmark and views it as a symbol for human imperfection. Aylmer’s obsession soon becomes so all-encompassing that he conjures a scientific solution to erase the mark. Essentially, Aylmer believes in the attainability of perfection and fails to accept the fallibility of humanity. Notably, Aylmer himself is a severely imperfect, flawed character. While reading Aylmer’s accounts of his experiments, Georgiana discovers that most of his ambitious projects ended in failure. The combination of Aylmer’s demand for perfection with own deep imperfection makes his experiment deeply hypocritical.

Like most of his inquiries, Aylmer’s quest to perfect Georgiana ultimately fails. His solution erases the mark, but Georgiana dies as a result—without her birthmark, she is too much of an ideal being to occupy earth. Through the failed experiment, Hawthorne illustrates the futility of striving for human perfection, all the while affirming flaws as intrinsic to mankind.

The limitations of science

In many ways, “The Birth-Mark” is an exposé of misleading scientific practices. Aylmer cannot accept Georgiana as Nature made her and uses scientific knowledge to try to “fix” her appearance. With this basic premise, Hawthorne displays how subjectivity and biased motives can easily penetrate scientific inquiries, which have traditionally been viewed and framed as wholly objective and separated from moral concerns.

Also, Hawthorne uses one of the story’s central conflicts—science vs. nature—to unearth the limitations of science. Aylmer seeks to control life just as Nature does, as well as modify and correct (what he perceives to be) Nature’s mistakes. He uses his scientific knowledge to tamper with Nature, which ultimately results in Georgiana’s death. Through this bleak finale, Hawthorne criticizes our temptations to rely on science to explain, discover, and rectify Nature’s creations and mysterious doings. To Hawthorne, Nature will also remain more powerful and triumphant than any sort of scientific inquiry.


Aylmer exhibits a dangerous, unbridled pride that ultimately results in Georgiana's downfall. His gender, intelligence, and experience in the scientific field render him an authority figure over Georgiana, a woman, and Aminadab, his grotesque and dim-witted assistant. Throughout the story, he bolsters his ambitions and skills, which becomes especially evident in his allusion to Pygmalion. Letting his own sense of superiority overtake his rationality, Aylmer’s confidence soon extends to his insistence that he is capable of “fixing” Georgiana’s appearance—“I feel myself fully competent to render this dear cheek as faultless as its fellow; and then, most beloved, what will be my triumph when I shall have corrected what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work!” (155-6).

In other words, Aylmer believes he can rectify the “mistakes” of Nature, and, in doing so, he displays a God complex. His pride blinds him to the immoral narcissism permeating his experiment, and he ignores the signs of its inevitable failure. Once Aylmer’s experiment to remove Georgiana’s birthmark fails and she dies as a result, Hawthorne illuminates the deadly, tragic consequences arising from extreme pride and overambition.


As the only woman in “The Birth-Mark,” Georgiana seems to conform to prescribed social norms of the late 18th and early 19th century, which idealize female passivity and submissive, obedient wives. Throughout the story, she unquestionably surrenders to Aylmer’s wishes, and she even urges him to remove her birthmark because she cannot stand his unhappiness or resentment. Georgiana understands the potential risks of the experiment, but she claims she would rather die than continue to fail to satisfy her husband. This extreme submission shows the inevitable impacts of traditional gender politics, which identify men as dominant and women as powerless and subordinate.