The Birthmark Critical Analysis

Submitted By lcouncil
Words: 820
Pages: 4

Critical Argument Summary
In Judith Fetterley’s critical essay on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”, she uses a feminist strategy to analyze his short story. The position she takes is that the story is a “demonstration of how to murder your wife and get away with it” (Fetterley). I do not think that he was actually trying to kill his wife, but I do think he was striving for perfection. In that quest, he did rid her of the birthmark; but the consequence was death. She argues that the story could not be told in reverse. For instance, Georgiana would not become obsessed with a birthmark on Aylmer to the point of wanting to rid him of it; nor would a man be obsessed about another man’s birthmark. This is so true because women evaluate men by more than just their exterior appearance. Also, men do not hold other men to the same physical test that they do women. Men view females in a different way. Aylmer is not concerned with Georgiana’s character or “with the state of her soul” (Fetterley) but with this tiny birthmark that can be covered “with the tips of two small fingers” (Hawthorne 423), that blemishes her almost perfect appearance. Fetterley goes as far as to promote that men are hostile towards women and their desire for perfection is a motive for their need to abolish them. Once again, I do not fully agree with this argument. If men wanted women eliminated, then what would they have to look at? No, I do think men try to perfect women; but women try to perfect themselves too.
Along that same line, Fetterley shares an analysis by Una Stannard from “The Mask of Beauty” that pokes fun at the fact that women are, “in their natural state, unacceptable, imperfect, monstrous” (Fetterley). Stannard writes about how women buy padded bras, girdles, high heels, makeup, perfumes, curlers, hair color, and any other product that will alter their physical beauty. I found this quite humorous and so true. In fact, most women evaluate themselves by the response they receive from men, Fetterley indicates. Even, Hawthorne states in the story that people who loved Georgiana just accepted the birthmark as a part of her beauty; but of course, other women who envied the rest of her beauty considered it “an object of disgust” (Fetterley). Because of Aylmer’s complete repulse at the sight of the birthmark, Georgiana herself becomes to hate the mark as well. Fetterley states, “women are programmed to deny the validity of their own perceptions and responses and to accept male illusions as truth” (Fetterley).
Fetterley further conveys the role that Aminadab plays in the story. She believes he is an allegory and he symbolizes, “earthly physical, erotic self that has been split off from Aylmer, that he refuses to recognize as part of himself, and that has become monstrous and grotesque as a result” (Fetterley). The interesting thing about Aminadab to me is the fact he comments, “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark” (Hawthorne 424). Does that mean the birthmark does not bother him or is Hawthorne using him to foreshadow Georgiana’s death? Looking at it from a feminist strategy, I would think that a person of Aminadab’s description would have lower standards for perfection in a woman than a better-looking man; however,