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The Birthmark

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Important Quotations Explained

The Story of Pygmalion

How to Cite This SparkNote

1. “[H]ere is a powerful cosmetic. With a few drops of this in a vase of water, freckles may be washed away. . . . A stronger infusion would take the blood out of the cheek, and leave the rosiest beauty a pale ghost. . . . Your case demands a remedy that shall go deeper.”

Even though Aylmer isn’t evil, he is nevertheless despicable and sinister because he considers himself an apt judge of his wife’s moral fiber. In this passage, we see that Aylmer doesn’t merely want to wipe away the physical birthmark on his wife’s cheek. If that were his aim, he would use the “powerful cosmetic” that he claims can wipe away freckles as if they were specks of dirt. Because he has become convinced that the mark is merely the external evidence of some deep moral and spiritual rot, he believes the so-called remedy must be applied internally. As we read the passage, we realize with mounting horror that Aylmer has become a madman. He no longer sees Georgiana’s birthmark as a minor physical defect but as a terrifying symbol of death and sin.

2. [W]ith her whole spirit she prayed that, for a single moment, she might satisfy his highest and deepest conception. Longer than one moment she well knew it could not be; for his spirit was ever on the march, ever ascending . . . [requiring] something that was beyond the scope of the instant before.

This quotation investigates the myriad problems inherent in Aylmer’s quest for perfection. Although Aylmer has managed to con Georgiana into believing that she isn’t worthy of his affection, the narrator reveals here that Aylmer’s insistence on perfection is insane. In fact, this passage makes it clear that even total perfection wouldn’t satisfy him. Georgiana realizes that if she managed to satisfy his demands, her triumph would last only “for a single moment.” After that, he would want still more from her. The removal of the birthmark is something of an artificial goal, and the narrator suggests that Aylmer wouldn’t be happy even if she’d never had the birthmark in the first place. His lust for flawlessness will never be sated—he has become deranged.

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