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Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Title: Nathaniel Hawthorne


1
The Birthmark
  • By
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne

2
The birthmark was natures flaw, but what nature
could not perfect, science could.
3
Aylmer gazed unhappily at his wife, Georgianna,
across the room. She was beautiful, except for a
small birthmark on her cheek.
4
Aylmer was a scientist, not a doctor, and before
he married Georgianna, he had scarcely noticed
the mark.
5
But for a week now, it had been troubling him. It
was like a stain upon white marble. He had begun
to hate it.
6
My dear, he ventured one day, has it ever
occurred to you that the mark upon your cheek
could be removed?
7
Georgianna smiled uneasily. It is so faint, I
often forget it is even there.
8
To tell you the truth, it has been so often
called a charm that I was simple enough to
imagine it might be so.
9
Upon another face perhaps it might, replied her
husband, but never on yours. I find it shocking!
10
Georgianna was alarmed. Shocking! she cried,
deeply hurt, at first reddening with momentary
anger but then bursting into tears.
11
Then why did you take me from my mothers side?
You cannot love what shocks you!
12
The singular mark was deeply interwoven with the
texture of her face.
13
Georgiannas complexion was healthy and
delicate, and the birthmark was a tint of deep
crimson, which also outlined its shape amid the
surrounding rosiness.
14
When she blushed, it gradually became more
indistinct and finally vanished amid the rush of
blood that bathed the whole cheek with its
brilliant glow.
15
But if any shifting motion caused her to turn
pale, there was the mark again. Although quite
small, its shape bore a similarity to the human
hand.
16
Aylmer stood, agitated now. The birthmark was a
fatal flaw of nature. If it were not for the
mark, you would be perfect!
17
Georgianna turned away, and Aylmer was left
brooding.
18
He was a scientist. He had spent his entire life
in his laboratory, working on perfecting what
nature could not.
19
A simple birthmark was a small thing compared
with the larger experiments with which he was
concerned. But he said nothing more.
20
Day after day, whenever she looked up, Georgianna
found Aylmer staring at her, sometimes with a
look of appalled disgust.
21
Georgianna soon learned to shudder at his gaze. A
glance from him would change her rosy cheeks into
a deathlike paleness causing the crimson
birthmark to stand out.
22
Soon, she began to hate the birthmark.
23
Late one night, when the lights were growing dim
so as hardly to betray the stain on the poor
wifes cheek, she herself, for the first time,
brought up the topic of the birthmark.
24
Do you remember, my dear Aylmer, she said with
a feeble attempt at a smile, having a dream last
night about this odious birthmark?
25
None! None whatever! replied Aylmer, startled
that somehow his wife had read his nightmare.
26
But then he added, in a dry, cold tone, trying
not to betray his emotions, I might have dreamed
of it. Perhaps I did, for I have thought of the
mark often before I fall asleep.
27
You did dream of it! she pressed. It was a
terrible dream! I wonder how you can forget it. I
heard you speaking in your sleep.
28
You cried out, It is in her heart now we must
have it out! Do you not remember the dream now?
29
Indeed, he did remember. It was very clear to
him. He was in his laboratory, and he was
pressing the blade of a knife into the soft skin
of Georgiannas cheek.
30
The deeper he cut, the deeper the birthmark sank.
He could not get to the root of it. Aylmer had
awakened in a cold sweat.
31
Beside him, Georgianna was sleeping peacefully.
The mark was still there, as grotesque to him as
ever.
32
Aylmer, resumed Georgianna solemnly, I know
not what may be the cost to both of us to rid me
of this fatal birthmark.
33
Perhaps its removal may cause cureless
deformity, or it may be the stain goes as deep as
life itself. But let the attempt be made. You
have learned science.
34
Cannot you remove this little, little mark,
which I can cover with the tips of two small
fingers? Is this beyond your power?
35
To do this would give you peace and save your
poor wife from madness.
36
Aylmer beamed. Noblest, dearest, tenderest
wife, he cried, please do not doubt my power. I
have already given this matter the deepest
thought.
37
I feel fully competent to remove the mark
without error or danger to you. I shall make you
perfect!
38
Aylmer kissed his wifes cheekher unblemished
cheek. No one will equal your beauty, he
promised.
39
Is that so important to you, Aylmer? Georgianna
asked with sadness in her voice.
40
Your happiness is what is important to me, he
answered. And you have just admitted that you
are dreadfully unhappy knowing how the mark
disturbs me.
41
That, of course, was quite true!
42
The dream he had dreamed was only foolishness.
Aylmer had no intention of removing the birthmark
by an operation.
43
He had a different method, a chemical solution.
For days, then weeks, he worked in his laboratory
until at last he had discovered the right
combination of chemicals.
44
With the liquid mixed and ready, Aylmer drew his
wife into the laboratory.
45
As she stepped over the threshold, Georgianna was
cold and tremulous. Aylmer looked cheerfully into
her pale face, with intent to reassure her.
46
He was so startled with the intense glow of the
birthmark that he shuddered violently. His wife
fainted.
47
Quickly, he lifted her and carried her into a
private room where he sometimes slept and
studied.
48
When Georgianna recovered consciousness, she
found herself breathing a sweet, penetrating
fragrance.
49
Where am I? Ah, I remember, she said faintly,
and she placed her hand over her cheek to hide
the terrible mark from her husbands eyes.
50
The scene around her looked like enchantment.
Aylmer had converted the smoky, dingy, somber
room into a beautiful apartment.
51
The walls were hung with gorgeous curtains, which
fell from ceiling to floor and shut out all light
that might interfere with his chemical
experiments.
52
Perfumed lamps emitted flames of various
huesblues, corals, pale greensuniting in a soft
radiance.
53
He told her he had been working to perfect a
liquid to prolong life for years, perhaps
forever. Death is the ultimate flaw of nature,
is it not?
54
One day I shall discover an elixir of life that
will bring man immortality, he said
enthusiastically.
55
Aylmer, are you in earnest? It is terrible to
possess such power or even to dream of possessing
it.
56
Do not tremble, my love, said her husband. I
would not wrong either you or myself with my
experiments. I mean to improve the world.
57
Georgianna loved her husband despite his aversion
to the mark upon her cheek.
58
But she felt sorry for him as well, for a man of
science who dreams of perfecting nature can never
be satisfied.
59
He is doomed to fail even if the experiment
succeeds.
60
Aylmer bid her to follow him into the
laboratory.In comparison to the boudoir, the
laboratory was a gray room of brick.
61
The furnace, hot and feverish, caught her eye.
Quantities of soot clustered above it and seemed
to have been burning for ages.
62
Around the room were glass tubes, cylinders,
crucibles, and other apparatus of chemical
research.
63
The room seemed naked after the elegance and
sweet perfume of the boudoir.
64
Aylmer too seemed more serious, more pale, as if
the laboratorys gaseous odors were seeping
inside his soul.
65
Behold, Aylmer said, and he held up a vial of
silver liquid. On the table stood a diseased
geranium, with yellow blotches that had
overspread all its leaves.
66
Georgianna watched as Aylmer poured a small
quantity of the liquid upon the soil in which it
grew.
67
In a little time, when the roots of the plant had
drunk the moisture, the ugly blotches began to
disappear as new, green tips of vegetation began
to sprout and uncurl.
68
Within minutes, the geranium was lush and green,
a perfect plant again. Crimson blooms crowned its
head.
69
Why, it is magical! Georgianna cried.
70
No, it is not magic, Aylmer said. I am not a
sorcerer with a book of spells and potions. I am
a scientist. That is why you must trust me, my
dear.
71
Will you put this silver liquid on my face? she
asked.
72
Oh, no. The mark runs too deep beneath the skin.
You must drink the liquid. Unless science
deceives me, he told her, it will not fail.
73
I submit, she replied. I will drink anything
you bring me, but it will be on the same
principle that would induce me to take a dose of
poison if you offered it to me.
74
My dear wife, Aylmer said, deeply moved. I
knew not the height and depth of your nature
until now. But why do you speak of poison, of
dying?
75
The liquid cannot fail. There is no danger. I
have tested it. The strength of the potion is
right.
76
Danger? There is but one dangerthat this
horrible stigma shall be left upon my cheek and I
shall go mad! she cried. Give me the glass.
77
Drink, then, exclaimed Aylmer with admiration
for his wife, and you shall be perfect.
78
She quaffed the liquid and returned the goblet to
her husbands hand.
79
I am grateful, she said. Now, dearest, let me
sleep. My senses are closing over my spirit like
the leaves around the heart of a rose at sunset.
80
She spoke the last words with a gentle
reluctance, as if it required almost more energy
than she could command to pronounce the syllables.
81
Scarcely had they loitered through her lips when
she was lost in slumber.
82
Aylmer sat by her side, watching her closely. Not
the minutest symptom escaped him. Her cheeks
flushed her eyelids quivered.
83
Each tiny detail he recorded in his notebook. So
engrossed was he in the progress of the operation
that he failed to notice that
84
the geranium on the table had begun to droop. The
blooms crimson petals drifted silently to the
tabletop.
85
With each breath in and each breath out, the
outline of the crimson hand upon Georgiannas
cheek became less noticeable.
86
She stirred in her deep sleep and murmured, then
sighed, and the mark faded even more. Aylmer
scribbled another note. When he looked up again,
he was jubilant.
87
By heaven! It is gone! said Aylmer. I can
scarcely trace it now. Success! Success! But why
is she so pale?
88
He rose and drew aside the window curtain and
allowed the light of natural day to fall into the
room and rest upon Georgiannas cheek.
89
Slowly she unclosed her eyes and gazed into the
mirror that her husband now gave her.
90
A faint smile flitted over her lips. But then her
eyes sought Aylmers face with a trouble and
anxiety that he did not understand.
91
My poor Aylmer, she murmured. Poor? No, I am
the richest, happiest husband. Do you not see? It
is a success. You are a perfect woman.
92
My poor Aylmer, she repeated. You have aimed
high. Do not repent that. But you have rejected
the best that earth could offer.
93
He knelt beside her on the couch and took her
hand. Her fingers were cold. Rejected you?
Never!
94
I am dying,she sighed.Alas! It was true. The
fatal hand had grappled with the mystery of life.
95
The presence of the birthmark had been awful to
him its departure now was more awful still.
96
Watch the stain of the rainbow fading out of the
sky, and you will know how that mysterious symbol
faded from Georgiannas face.
97
As the last crimson tint of the birthmark faded
from her cheek, the parting breath of the now
perfect woman passed into the atmosphere,
98
and her soul, lingering a moment near her
husband, took its heavenward flight.
99
On the laboratory table, the geranium was bone
dry. Its fallen leaves lay like autumn about its
base of clay.
100
Looking Back
101
Click this hyperlink and open the document called
Questions for The Birthmark. Your group will
need to answer these questions. There should be
just one document for the group, and all group
members should contribute to the success of the
project. For the first seven questions, copy and
paste the answer your group selects. For s
8-10, write complete sentences. Numbers 11-13
will be answered by the group. Each group member
will get the same score for the first 13
questions. When you have answered the first 13
questions, print out a copy for each person in
the group. Each person will then answer numbers
14 18 by himself (herself) by writing neatly
with pen or pencil.
102
Aylmer can best be described as A. a
pessimist B. an optimist C. a perfectionist D.
a realist
103
2. Georgianna agrees to the experiment
because A. she hates the birthmark B. she is
afraid of Aylmer C. she hates the way Aylmer
looks at her because of the
birthmark D. she is also a scientist
104
3. An event that warns of Georgiannas fate is
A. when Aylmer redecorates his private
room.B. when the geranium plants leaves droop
and fall off.C. when Georgianna begins
moving around in her sleep.
105
4. The climax of the story occurs when A.
Georgianna drinks the liquid.B. she looks into
the mirror and smiles faintly.C. she
mutters I am dying and takes her last
breath.
106
5. The irony is thatA. Georgianna never really
loved Aylmer.B. Aylmer loves science more than
he loves his wife.C. Aylmer sets out to
make her perfect, and in the end he destroys
her.D. Georgianna never liked geraniums in
the first place.
107
6. In the line, Its fallen leaves lay like
autumn about its base of clay, the leaves
symbolizeA. Aylmers failed dream of making
his wife perfect.B. Georgiannas loss of
love for her husband.C. Aylmers feelings
of pride about his scientific skill.
108
7. This story has several themes. Select the 2
below that best convey the themes.A. Science
cant solve all of mankinds
imperfections.B. Wives should not do what their
husbands tell them to do.C. Love conquers
all.D. Life will always have imperfections.E.
Marriages dont always work out.
109
The next three questions must be answered by your
group, and everyone should check spelling and
work together to correct other errors in writing.
110
8. There is an adage that says beauty is only
skin deep. In other words, there is more to a
person than the outward appearance. Explain how
Aylmers failure to understand these words of
wisdom affects the outcome of the story.
111
9. Discuss the elements of Gothic literature that
can be seen in The Birthmark. Refer to your
notes on gothic literature. A good answer will
have at least three characteristics of gothic
literature.
112
10. In your own words, explain the dream that
Aylmer had.
113
11. Use the word quaffed in a sentence created by
your group. Your sentences must have 10 or more
words.
114
12. Use the word earnest in a sentence created by
your group. Your sentences must have 10 or more
words.
115
13. Use the word engrossed in a sentence created
by your group. Your sentences must have 10 or
more words.
116
At this point, your group should check all work
and then print out a copy for each person in the
group. On your own, each of you will handwrite
your own answers to numbers 14 -18. If your
answers are identical or almost the same as
others in your group, you will not receive
credit. Your ideas can be the same, but your
words must not be!.
117
14. Use the word lush in a sentence created by
yourself. Your sentences must have 10 or more
words.
118
15. Use the word flitted in a sentence created by
yourself. Your sentences must have 10 or more
words.
119
16. Use the word quivered in a sentence created
by your group. Your sentences must have 10 or
more words.
120
17. Before Aylmer married Georgianna, he scarcely
noticed her birthmark. After a while, however, it
bothered him greatly. Explain why you think his
feelings changed. (4 points)
121
18. The geranium and the birthmark were two
symbols in this story. Choose either the
geranium or the birthmark. What did it look
like? What did it symbolize, represent, or stand
for? Finally, why was it important to the
story? Answer all three of these questions.
Be sure to tell whether you are talking about the
geranium or the birthmark. (6 points)
122
Twenty-six points of this assignment will be
earned working with a partner. Sixteen points
will be earned by you alone. 42 points total
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