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“Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne Review: Characterization of O’Connor and Hawthorne Essay

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Updated: Jan 13th, 2022

Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthmark is the story about human madness at perfection and beauty and the consequences of the human interference in the laws of nature. The main character of the story is Georgiana who is very beautiful woman. The only deficiency in her beauty is the birthmark on her cheek. Although many people consider this birthmark to be an attractive mark, her husband Aylmer who is the scientist looks upon this birthmark as upon the thing which spoils his wife’s beauty. He dreams of its removal. Georgiana is very upset with her husband’s attitude to her and she begins to beg him to remove her birthmark using his scientific knowledge. Georgiana gives her life in favor of this birthmark. The removal of this imperfection is fatal for her.

Georgiana’s birthmark is the symbol of human depravity and imperfection. Aylmer considers this birthmark to be “the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her productions” (Hawthorne, Birthmark). All human attempts to argue with nature or try to resist it end in human failure. More than that, the author depicts the detrimental consequences of scientific interference in nature. Aylmer’s confidence to resist the imperfection of nature kills his wife. Such human flaws are the way used by nature of reminding us our depravity and mortality. Without this imperfection Georgiana would be a bird of paradise and the symbol of perfect beauty. The birthmark is a sort of connection between her perfect nature and mortal body. Her angelic spirit prevails without this birthmark and her place of living becomes the heaven. Ironically, Aylmer has a success removing Georgiana’s birthmark. Science wins the nature for a moment but this win has fatal consequences for human life. This win costs a human life. The desire of human beings to be perfect fails before the power of the nature.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Good Man Brown is an ironic and symbolic story about the boundaries between reality and dreams and the fall of man. This motif is traced in many literary works. William Shakespeare touches upon this theme in his A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hawthorne depicts the theme of the weakness of public morality. Although Goodman Brown decides to go to the forest to meet with the devil he tries to hide this fact for the society. He wants to be faithful to his wife in the eyes of the public. The faith of people is weak and vulnerable when it is based on other people’s points of view. It even doesn’t whether the events in the forest are the dream or the reality, Goodman Brown’s choice ends in the inevitable loss of innocence. The forest is depicted as the place of dark forces and the main character stops being afraid only after his giving in to evil.

The dark forces which are represented by a carved serpent are the biblical symbol of evil. Goodman Brown is tempted by the serpent like Eve and as the result he gives in and loses his innocence. The main character’s curiosity ruins his happy life. Another symbolic depiction which draws our attention is Faith’s pink ribbons (Hawthorne, Young Good Man Brown). Pink ribbons are the symbol of innocence and purity. When the ribbon falls down from the sky, it symbolizes that the Faith belongs to the devilish nature. The presence of pink ribbons at the end of the story when Goodman Brown returns to home confuses the main character and he cannot decide whether it was a dream or reality. The main character of Hawthorne’s story is a sinful and weak man tempted by the devil.

Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find is full of symbols. The main character is depicted as a woman who believes she has the right to judge other people and makes the decisions instead of them only because she is a lady. She uses every opportunity to look for in every man his/her imperfections. Judging other people, this lady doesn’t pay attention to her own imperfection. The definition of a good man is used as a label which is stuck to everyone whom this old lady considers to deserve this label. This label becomes meaningful before her death when she realizes her own depravity. Red Sammy and Misfit are honored with this label. In fact, the notion of goodness is not considered with perfection and morality. The grandmother considers those people to be good ones whose beliefs and points of view coincide with hers beliefs.

The motif of nostalgia is depicted in the grandmother’s belief that it was easier to find a good man long time ago and there are so mane evil people living around her. The irony is traced in her seeking for a good man being herself a sinful woman. She is as a good man as other people are.

The image of a lady is symbolic in O’Connor’s story. The main character has the right to judge other people only because she is the lady. Her hat which is the integral part of her essence reminds the readers about her lady nature. When she dresses for a car trip she presupposes that if she dies in a car accident everyone will know that she is a lady with the help of her hat. She is mad about to be a lady. The label of a good man is connected with the label of being a lady. Having dropped her hat during the trip she lost her self-confidence of being a lady and believes in her own depravity (O’Connor, A Good Man Is Hard to Find).

Another interesting O’Connor’s story which attracts our attention with symbols and ironic images is Revelation. This story abounds with ironic expressions judging other people as things belonging to different classes. For example, the main character, Mrs. Turpin, is considered to be the representative of a high society and she is “well-dressed and pleasant” (O’Connor, Revelation). This woman believes that she has the right to stick labels to other people and she calls the teenage girl an ugly one and a woman from the law class “white-trashy”. She uses the word “nigger” in her thoughts with respect to black people.

Mary Grace’s name is used as the main symbol of the story. She is considered to be the embodiment of grace. Her eyes symbolize her faith and her attitude to Mrs. Turpin. She has evil eyes which are considered by other people “alternately to smolder and to blaze” (O’Connor, Revelation). When she becomes angry her eyes “seemed lit all of a sudden with a peculiar light, an unnatural light like night road signs give” (O’Connor, Revelation).

The sky and the sun are other symbols typical for O’Connor’s stories. They are connected with the stages of Mrs. Turpin’s revelation. O’Connor compares people with animals in her many literary works. The sun is the symbol of God and humans are connected with hogs in Revelation. Mary Grace calls Mrs. Turpin “a wart hog” (O’Connor, Revelation).

Racism is traced in O’Connor’s stories. Mrs. Turpin’s attitude to other people is penetrated with racist inclinations. She considers her black servants to be idiots and she puts them “on the bottom of the heap” (O’Connor, Revelation). Ironically while she considers black people to belong to the wastes of the society, they look upon her in a disparaging way too.

Works Cited

  1. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Birthmark. The Literature Network. 2012.
  2. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Good Man Brown. The Literature Network. 2012.
  3. O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find. 2012.
  4. O’Connor, Flannery. Revelation. Unfolding Flannery O’Connor. 2012.
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