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The Birthmark

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Foreshadowing

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Narration

“The Birthmark” is rife with the kind of foreshadowing that may strike modern readers as heavy-handed. Aylmer dreams of cutting off Georgiana’s birthmark and finding that the roots plunge down into her heart, which he decides to cut out; Georgiana faints the first time she sees the laboratory; the beautiful, fast-blooming flower Aylmer creates withers and turns black as soon as Georgiana touches it; a reflection of Georgiana in a metal plate reveals the shape of a hand, so Aylmer throws the plate into acid, destroying it. Over and over, we see that Aylmer’s experiments usually go awry and have destructive, unintended consequences. Georgiana’s death, therefore, comes as no surprise to the attentive reader. In fact, some modern readers may feel disappointed that the final scene of the story adheres so closely to what has been foreshadowed and contains so little that is surprising.

If we are not shocked, however, neither is Georgiana, who serves as a stand-in for us, a reader of the events around her. Georgiana overhears Aylmer muttering in his sleep, realizes what he’s dreaming about, and presses him to recall the dream the next morning. She interprets it correctly, firmly believing that the birthmark’s removal may lead to her death. She analyzes the incidents of the past such as the broken flower and disfigured plate, and reads Aylmer’s journals as catalogues of his failures. In this light, the lack of surprise at the end of the story emphasizes Georgiana’s bravery: like us, she knew exactly what would probably happen, but she submitted to her husband’s experiment to make him happy.

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