The Birthmark

Nathaniel Hawthorne gives the impression of a man worried about attaining perfection. His short story "The Birthmark" tells of a man of knowledge obsessed with attaining perfection. This man ultimately got his desire, but the end result was not what he had anticipated. Hawthorne seems to be saying that perfection can only be attained imperfectly, if such is possible, and at great cost.

In "The Birthmark," an amazing scientist, Aylmer, married a beautiful woman who had one mar: a birthmark on her cheek. Whereas others liked the birthmark, Aylmer saw it as his wife's sole "visible mark of earthly imperfection," which he was determined to destroy. He convinced his wife to let him remove the mark. But as began his preparations she found his scientific journal and discovered that Aylmer was obsessed with perfection. Unfortunately, perfection was difficult, and his great achievements were failures "if compared with the ideal at which he aimed." Aylmer gave his wife a potion, convinced that his great knowledge and experience would allow him to attain perfection. "Unless all my science have deceived me, it cannot fail," declared Aylmer to reassure his wife. Although he knew he had failed many times before, Aylmer was blinded to his fallibility in his obsession with attaining perfection.

Indeed, Aylmer's science did not deceive him, and he attained perfection. His wife drank the potion and fell asleep. The birthmark faded like a "rainbow fading out of the sky," and Aylmer had achieved his greatest desire. But in his obsession with attaining perfection, Aylmer did not consider the consequences, and as his potion worked its magic on his wife's birthmark, it had the same destructive effect upon her soul. Although Aylmer attained his desire perfectly, it was at a great cost: the ultimate imperfection of death.