Young Goodman Brown and Other Hawthorne Short Stories

The Importance of Whiteness and Race in Hawthorne's The Birth-Mark

Critical readings of Hawthorne's "The Birth-Mark" tend to focus mainly on Aylmer's attempt to overpower the hand of God, and the boundaries between science and nature. In the vast array of scholarship on the story, however, little has been said of its racial undercurrent. Written in a time in American history when racial biology and eugenics dominated scientific studies, Hawthorne's story is obsessed with the notions of whiteness, purity, and physical appearance. In this paper, I intend to prove that Aylmer's desire to remove Georgiana's birthmark represents nineteenth-century white anxiety about miscegenation, and the desire to advance a superior, white race.

It will better serve my purpose to first examine some of the theories of racial biology that were popular around the time of the story's publication. Two works will be of particular help: Samuel Otter's Melville's Anatomies and Shawn Michelle Smith's American Archives. Otter identifies many of the studies in racial differences, while Smith relates these studies to the preservation of the white middle class, and the role of visual culture in nineteenth-century America. According to Otter, Dutch anatomist Petrus Camper arranged...

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