Beauty Is In the Eye of the Beholder– His Name Is Nathaniel Hawthorne

Beauty Is In the Eye of the Beholder– His Name Is Nathaniel Hawthorne

“No, dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly imperfection.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne “The Birthmark”

Imperfections, flaws, blemishes, faults, mistakes, the list goes on and on for words that describe what is not meant to be. On the other hand, there have been countless attempts to construct what is perfect and what is beautiful. Beauty is a word that holds so much power in its versatility. Sounds, scenes, words, art, and people can all be beautiful. So if it does have that much versatility, what makes things beautiful? 

In “The Birthmark” a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the questions of “what is beautiful?” and “how far is too far” are the main premises of the story. A husband wants to fix his wife’s birthmark on her face, because that birthmark is the only thing hindering her from being perfect, according to him. Beauty is very much so in the eye of the beholder and Hawthorne really toys with this concept. Although Alymar, the husband, claims that the only thing his wife, Georgiana, needs to fix is the birthmark, the reader knows that this is not the case. Alymer wants to fix her for his own pleasure of looking at her. At the beginning of the story, Georgiana loves her birthmark and thinks he is joking.

However hideous the birthmark is to Alymer, Hawthorne never describes the birthmark as ugly. Instead, he uses a simile of a fairy touching her skin when she was born:

“Georgiana’s lovers were wont to say that some fairy at her birth hour had laid her tiny hand upon the infant’s cheek, and left this impress there in token of the magic endowments that were to give her such sway over all hearts”

Nathaniel Hawthorne “The Birthmark”

Hawthorne is very descriptive in his writing and the way that he introduces this birthmark. Alymer is making the birthmark out to see so hideous and quite literally the worst thing in the world to look at, and he does not take that view at all. Instead, he describes it as some magical and positive. A fairy touching an infant’s cheek seems like the most innocent and non-threatening action. In addition, just this sentence alone is an example of Hawthorne’s writing style. Hawthorne includes many messages criticizing the societal structure at the time woven into his deeply descriptive writing style and well-developed characters as a way to subtly promote change; almost like tricking people into creating societal change. 

So beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Georgiana’s birthmark, however bad it may seem to Alymer, was not the only thing “wrong” with Georgiana. If she had survived the removal of the birthmark, it would not take long for Alymer to find something else he didn’t like of her and would try and fix that too. Hawthorne is using Alymer’s character to say that trying to “fix” someone else for your own benefit, to make them more “beautiful” to you, is only to your detriment and you will never find them truly beautiful if you dislike their flaws. 

Hawthorne going so far as to have Georgiana die at the end of the story is very important to the overall message he is trying to convey. Throughout the entire story, Alymer completely disregards the possible consequences of this risky procedure because he is so focused on the possible outcome and has the “it’s not going to happen to me” kind of attitude. Georgiana on the other hand is very aware of the possible consequences and does not want to go through with it, but her husband won’t let it go so she has to choose between her husband and her own wellbeing. Even if Georgiana did survive the surgery, the fact that she chose her husbands wishes over her one health would have esentially killed her character. She would always be beneath him and would never get to make any decisions for herself which could also be seen as a critique of gender roles at the time. 

Beauty, then, is all based on opinion. What you see might be different than what I see and where we go wrong is when we try and force our opinions onto other people. Although we may not go as far as killing people for the sake of being beautiful, we do have the power to kill someone’s confidence by creating these beauty “norms” in our society. Being perfect and having no flaws is not possible for anyone which means being imperfect is perfect. Trying to fit into boxes is a timeless issue every human being has struggled with, but Hawthorne shows us that fitting into boxes is what kills you.

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