The Unattainability of Perfection: A Critical Analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”
Perfection is one of the most sought-after qualities in society. People are willing to shell out large sums of money for dieting plans, training regimens, and plastic surgery – all in an attempt to be perfect, whether that means having a slim waist, a defined core, or a more attractive nose. However, nobody is flawless. Even if an individual alters their physical appearance to what they believe to be “perfect,” they will nonetheless have other, non-physical faults that will limit their ability to attain perfection. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a 19th century American writer, expressed his feelings about the attainability of perfection in his fiction. In particular, in "The Birthmark," Hawthorne uses the birthmark as a symbol, the characterization of Georgiana, and the foreshadowing of Georgiana's death to promote the unrealistic nature of perfection; Hawthorne highlights the impracticality of flawlessness so that society, in general, will stop going to great lengths trying to achieve the unachievable and, instead, spend their collective time more productively.
To begin with, to endorse the improbability of perfection, Hawthorne establishes Georgiana’s birthmark as a symbol of earthly imperfection. For instance, the birthmark is described as being “the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature […] stamps ineffaceably on all her productions, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain” (Hawthorne 14). From this, it is evident that the birthmark represents, not only the mortality of humans, but that while humans are mortal, perfection is elusive. Hawthorne goes so far as to indicate that the birthmark is “a symbol of his wife’s liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death […] [and that it is a] symbol of imperfection […] [of which] the spectral hand […] wrote mortality” (14). Although Georgiana is otherwise a...
Cited: Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birthmark.” Social Issues in Literature. Ed. M. Newell. Eastman: Montreal, 2011. 12-25. Print.
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