Controlling Nature: A Losing Battle
In the story “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, science versus nature is an essential source of conflict. This theme becomes apparent through Alymer’s persistent desire to interfere with what is natural through his passion for science. This obsession becomes most apparent when Alymer attempts to change his wife Georgiana’s natural appearance. Soon after marrying her, Alymer is shocked by the smallest of imperfection, and expresses desire to remove it, as a result having control over nature. This drive to remove what is natural is what results in the death of his wife. In doing so, Alymer, being a man of science, struggles with nature. In “The Birthmark”, through, Alymer’s attempt to manipulate what is natural, Georgiana’s victimization, and nature’s power over science, Nathaniel Hawthorne criticizes science for attempting to exercise control over the natural world. Through Alymer’s series of radical experiments, it is suggested that he attempts to manipulate nature. He is passionate about science, claiming the ability to create potions that give eternal life, being able to transform metal into gold, and more. These ambitions show how Aylmer uses science to try to beat nature. This desire to dominate what is natural gives what Alymer believes to be a god-like status. This is seen when Alymer seeks perfection in his wife and expresses interest in removing her birthmark. Georgiana’s birthmark is a manifestation of nature, and as a man of science, Alymer needs to have control over that, therefore rejecting the birthmark. Because Alymer’s becomes drunk on science, he feels he can dominate and control something as powerful as Mother Nature. At the end of the story, it is clear that science becomes treated as a religion through Georgiana’s last words to Aylmer. She says, “Do not repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer.” (25). The best the earth could offer is not...
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