The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne Book Review
In Nathanial Hawthrone’s The Birthmark, Almyer, a scientist, asks, “Georgiana has it never occurred to you that the mark upon your cheek might be removed?” This is asked by a husband to his wife during a restful evening at home. It starts a series of awkward and tense moments in what should and could have been a happy marriage. The audacity of this question might catch all of us off guard at first but If we honestly examine ourselves we will see that we frequently think and sometimes even speak aloud, judging others appearance, personality, and past when we should be accepting, celebrating, and often appreciating them. Is it possible that mankind can get so obsessed with the imperfections of each other that we forget that those imperfections are what make us all perfectly unique; different and beautiful?
The first step of judging is observing. Something that as human beings we can not help but unfortunately, for us and others around us, our “observation” often turns into an obsession. Obsessing builds a wall between what we think is and what should be important. Almyer laid each brick himself with every mention and expression of disgust. He let this one visible imperfection upon his wife consume him. Hawthrone writes, concerning Almyer, “At all the seasons which should have been their happiest, he invariably and without intending it, nay, in spite of purpose to the contrary, reverted to this one disastrous topic.” It is sad but so true how fast the imperfections of others are brought to our attention and make us question the figure’s identity. While Almyer might have been concerned with what others might have thought about him, he just simply became obsessed with the knowledge of imperfection that the beautiful women before him had. To his eyes, her homely mark became all he could see. While many others may have looked upon the same women and thought the birthmark a marking of personality and simple identity.
While the birthmark was driving Almyer crazy it was becoming a terrifying topic to Georgiana. She was filled with shame with how the mark upon her cheek was in her husband’s worst nightmares and constant thoughts. One night she could bear the extreme height and width of the wall between them no more. Her feelings exploded as words spilled from her mouth. “To the attempt be made at whatever risk. Danger is nothing to me; for life, while this hateful mark makes me the object of your horror and disgust, life is a burden which I would fling down with joy. Either remove this dreadful hand or take my wretched life.” Her husband’s strong visible dislike of the birthmark on her cheek had made her life miserable and then with convincing she allowed Almyer to take action. We can often get so caught up in imperfections that we take unnecessary action; cutting off life-long friendships, avoiding starting others; making movements we will regret later. We ignore the risks involved in the actions we take. So focused we are with disposing of the details God gave us; that which makes us each individually special. Often while our eyes are blind others can see what consequences the actions we make might create. In this case, Aminadab, Almyer’s lab assistant can see Almyer’s mistake in labeling Georgiana’s birthmark as imperfect. He states “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark.” Aminadab can see that the birthmark that both Almyer and Georgiana have come to hate so much is perfectly placed by the Creator.
A “perfect face” oh, what a joy that would be and quite a temptation. Almyer concocted a mysterious liquid and tested it on a plant covered in disease. Seeing that it made the spots disappear, “There needed no proof,” said Georgiana, quietly. “Give me the goblet. I joyfully stake all upon your word.” Trusting and clinging to what she thought was her only hope she drank. Often during hard situations, we feel trapped into trusting in man’s treatment; a faulty system. “My poor Almyer!” Georgiana murmured. “Poor? Nay, richest, happiest, most favored!” Almyer exclaimed. “My peerless bride, it is successful! You are perfect!” “My poor Aylmer,” “She repeated, with more than human tenderness,” “You have aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best earth could offer. Almyer, my dearest Almyer, I am dying!” “Alas! It was too true! The fatal hand had grappled with the mystery of life, and was bond by which the angelic spirit kept itself in union with a mortal frame. As the last crimson tint of the birthmark-that sole token of human imperfection-faded from her cheek, the parting breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere, and her soul, lingering a moment near her husband, took its heavenward flight.” Frequently the consequences of messing with God’s handiwork are great. They might not all happen right after the action taken, as in Georgiana’s case, However, unless perfected by the Creator, glitter and glory never lasts but always fades.
Oh, how we should measure the risks before jumping to a conclusion! We may never know how our actions can damage others. Being so caught up in your opinion of someone and their faults can blind you to who they really are. If only Almyer could have seen all that he did have. Mankind is not perfect. Every one of us has what we see as “flaws” and that’s what makes us solo and one of a kind in the eyes of our Creator. We can easily see ourselves in Georgiana’s place: bruised and battered with words and desiring to be perfect; to be loved. But rarely do we see ourselves as Almyer; drawn in and consumed with the one thing we find imperfect. Though it’s easy to see Almyer and a bully and “bad guy” in the story, we too can easily become caught up in the “what could be’s.” If only it was as simple as just telling ourselves and others we are perfect in Christ’s eyes but we know doubt is knocking at the door. You, I, We, have to believe that we are a child of God and oh so perfect to him.