Nathaniel Hawthorne`s representation of women in his short stories The Birthmark and Rappacini`s Daughter

Seminar Paper, 2000

17 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)

Free online reading


1. Introduction

2. Interpretation

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

Introduction :

In my paper I am going to talk about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s most challenging short stories “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter”. In Concord, Massachusetts, Hawthorne wrote a number of Puritan tales that were later published as “Mosses from an Old Manse” (1846) – his second collection – and brought Hawthorne further success. They include “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, “Young Goodman Brown”, “The Birthmark” and several other tales in which Hawthorne’s preoccupation with the effects of pride, guilt, sin and secrecy are explored through symbolism (for example the poisonous flowers) and allegory.

Pride, guilt and sin are some of the main aspects of these two stories as well as trust, perfection, love, science and nature under which I would like to analyze “The Birthmark” in comparison to “Rappaccini’s daughter” whose parallelism is remarkable.

I chose the representation of women in these two short stories because both show extremely well how Hawthorne created his female characters in order to emphasize the difference between the male and female (= thesis statement). This difference is important because Hawthorne sheds light on 19thcentury perception of science and nature, scientists and victims. In a special way both short stories portray men’s anxieties about women’s sexuality by presenting obsessed and cold-hearted men who destroy the innocent women who trust them and love them from the depth of their heart.


Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Birthmark”, written between 1842–1845, during his prolific period when he lived with his wife Sophia in the Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts, as well as his short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, written at the same time, deal with the same topic:

An ingenious scientist who lives for his love of science starts an experiment, an experiment which has never been done before, in which the test subject is a human being, a woman that trusts and admires his scientific capability and entrusts him her life because she loves him.

Both stories explore the dark side of nineteenth century scientific and technological change by means of experiments that fail and go awry.

There are some very important pairs of opposites ‘ which run through both of the stories:

Science vs. nature, obsession vs. love, perfection vs. imperfection, love of thoughts vs. love of the heart.

Both stories show the reader in an instructive and symbolic way the limits that human beings have and point out that trying to break through these borders of higher spirit will surely end with death. In “The Birthmark” the scientist Aylmer, whose passion for science is far greater than for his wife, persuades his wife Georgiana to remove the birthmark on her left cheek whose shape looks like a pygmy hand. For Aylmer it is the “visible mark of imperfection” (p. 2225) and in his strong believe of his scientific talent he tries to correct nature and play god. In the end Georgiana drinks Aylmer’s mixed, poisonous liquid which should remove the stain and in fact the mark disappears, but shortly after it fades from her cheek the ‘now perfect woman’ passes away.

In “Rappaccini’s daughter” the scientist Doctor Rappaccini nourishes his daughter Beatrice with the venomous essence of a self-cultivated, gorgeous flower since birth which makes her become a beautiful young woman but also poisonous herself. When Rappaccini notices his invulnerable young daughter to feel alone and isolated due to her poisonous breath towards all creatures and human beings he chooses a young, good looking man for her, called Giovanni. By another experiment he wants him to become as poisonous as Beatrice so that they can stay together happily ever after.

However, Giovanni finds out about Rappaccini’s intention with the help of his father’s friend Professor Pietro Baglioni who gives Giovanni the life-saving antidote for him and Beatrice. In the end Beatrice drinks the antidote but as poison means life to her, the powerful antidote means death.

Even though Doctor Rappaccini isn’t acting that much in the story we can see that he is the same kind of man as Aylmer. Aylmer is a very rational character who is defined through ‘his world’- his ‘love of thoughts’ and not through his personality. ‘His world’ means his ‘love of science’ because he is an ardent and very ambitious scientist who wants to discover everything. He wants to get into the deep mysteries of life and nature and try to perfect it; ...there lived a man of science, an eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy,.., p. 2225.

He is also very cold, egocentric and selfish because he wouldn’t stop until Georgiana is perfect. Rappaccini is a bit stronger than Aylmer because “he cares infinitely more for science than for mankind. His patients are interesting to him only as subjects for some new experiment.” (p. 2241). Despite some differences Rappaccini and Aylmer should represent the same kind of man, the scientist, just as Georgiana and Beatrice represent the same kind of woman, the victim.

Both women are defined through their love of the heart. Georgiana and Beatrice are very sensitive, emotional and devoted characters who admire their husband and father, believe in their talent, entrust them everything they posses and even their life.

Giorgiana’s birthmark looks like “a crimson stain upon the snow, which imperfectly defined its shape amid the surrounding rosiness” (p. 2226) and whose “shape bore not a little similarity to the human hand, though of the smallest pygmy size.” (p. 2226). It seems to be the symbol of something inside of her, a sign of sin and sorrow but also a symbol of mortality. As beauty symbolizes her spiritual being, the birthmark symbolizes her humanity (“In this manner, selecting it as the symbol of his wife’s liability to sin, sorrow, decay and death, Aylmer’s sombre imagination was not long in rendering the birthmark a frightful object, causing him more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana’s beauty, whether of soul or sense, had given him delight.”, p. 2226). Besides a symbol of human imperfection, original sin and mortality, her birthmark can also be interpreted as a symbol of Aylmer’s hand in which Georgiana suffers her fate.

Beatrice’ sign of sin then would be the fact that she is poisoned.

Both women are imperfect and the male character in each of the stories considers himself to be qualified to chang e this imperfection to perfection with his own hands and scientific capability. At this point we have to distinguish between the two stories: In ‘The Birthmark’ Aylmer wants to change something which already exists (“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.”, p. 2226). His wife with the birthmark on her cheek. She “came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature, that this slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or beauty [, shocks me,] as being the visible mark of earthly imperfection.”.

17 of 17 pages


Nathaniel Hawthorne`s representation of women in his short stories The Birthmark and Rappacini`s Daughter
University of Bonn
2 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
373 KB
Nathaniel, Hawthorne`s, Birthmark, Rappacini`s, Daughter
Quote paper
Clemens Petra (Author), 2000, Nathaniel Hawthorne`s representation of women in his short stories The Birthmark and Rappacini`s Daughter, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 7/16/2001

    Re: Inhalt PDF-Download.

    |Eva schrieb:
    |ich stöbere sehr gerne auf Eueren Seiten und beziehe auch den Newsletter.
    |Aber ärgerlich ist es, wenn bei einem Download keine Inhalte zu sehen sind.
    |Könnte man dies hier noch ändern?

    Hallo Eva,

    bei mir funktioniert der Download einwandfrei.

    Bei der Anzeige von PDF-Dateien wurden allerdings
    in der letzten Zeit Probleme bekannt, wenn die Anzeige mit
    dem „Internet-Explorer“ erfolgen sollte. Seltsamerweise
    treten diese Probleme nur bei einigen Anwendern auf.

    Solltest Du eine pdf-Datei mit der linken Maustaste anklicken
    und im Internet-Explorer anzeigen wollen, dann ruf bitte
    vorher den Acrobat-Reader auf, gehe ins Menü
    „Datei – Grundeinstellungen – Allgemein“ und deaktiviere
    in dem sich öffnenden Fenster die Default-Einstellung
    „Web-Browser-Integration“ (Schalthäkchen darf nicht angezeigt sein).

    In jedem Falle kannst Du den Link, der auf die pdf-Datei verweist,
    mit der rechten Maustaste anklicken, in dem sich dann öffnenden
    Menü „Ziel speichern unter“ auswählen und einen Speicherort auf
    Deinem PC festlegen. Die so gespeicherte Datei lässt sich dann
    ohne Schwierigkeiten mit dem Acrobat-Reader öffnen.

    Viele Grüße

  • guest on 7/15/2001

    Inhalt PDF-Download.

    ich stöbere sehr gerne auf Eueren Seiten und beziehe auch den Newsletter.
    Aber ärgerlich ist es, wenn bei einem Download keine Inhalte zu sehen sind.
    Könnte man dies hier noch ändern?

Read the ebook
Title: Nathaniel Hawthorne`s representation of women in his short stories The Birthmark and Rappacini`s Daughter

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free