Nathaniel Hawthorne The Birthmark and Rappaccini's Daughter

The pursuit of perfection and Hawthorn's "The Birthmark" and "Rappaccinni's Daughter" paint a vivid image of society's quest for perfection. The Hawthorne tales frequently deal with the idea of perfection. But the pursuit of perfection among those who try to achieve ultimately fails because Hawthorne's protagonists are frequently mistaken and the characters' errors in judgment contribute to failures. Hawthorne bases his analysis on a variety of problems that occur in a person's day-to-day existence. Each gender is expected to behave in a certain manner in society, whether they are male or female. Gender roles are usually centered on the concept of femininity and masculinity, although there are various exceptions and variations. On a bigger picture, those behaviors of both men and women that are viewed to as socially acceptable are termed to as gender role. The society plays a significant role in shaping the behavior of a given person. Children, for instance, adopt some of their behavior from the adults in the society, and this is what sums up to gender roles. The author also looks at gender role in his book. This paper primarily focuses on the comparisons and contrasts of the “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini's Daughter.”


In both “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne the female characters are portrayed as the paragons of perfection, beauty, and vaginal grace. However, at the end of each and every tale, they fail to meet their perfections, and they are completely destroyed. Beatrice and Georgiana are considered as the female characters that satisfy the author’s theme (Hawthorne 7-19). At the beginning of each of these stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the two women as considered as the height of physical beauty as well as individuals with purity in their spirits. It is not long before their flaws are uncovered including their poisonous presence and small birthmark and their beauty is plucked across the story. The author likens the image of Beatrice to that of a flower. The narrator is quoted saying that “were the flower girl and different, whether strange or full of danger.” She has a nice scent and is dressed to perfection.

Hawthorne’s short stories “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter” also features a male protagonist, whose desire is to recreate a woman into their view of perfection. The male characters in the two stories are seen as the ones pushing for the perfections among the female gender. Aylmer of “The Birthmark” is on several occasions haunted by the birthmark on her wife’s cheek that “he one day, so soon after their marriage” notices. He is keen to inform his wife that “she perfectly came from nature that the visible mark of imperfection,” serves as the distractor of her beauty. Based on his statement it is clear that Aylmer wants Georgina to be perfect. In as much as the Aylmer pushes for her wife to erase the birthmark, she claims that she may be risking her life by doing so. Many people found Georgina as beautiful even with her birthmark (Hawthorne 7-19). In the Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” her father is linked to the poisonous nature of her daughter. He wants her to be perfect, but in the process, he destroys her completely, leading to her death. In both stories, Hawthorne shows the readers that the men are the main drivers of the victimization for the female gender.

Man’s desire to perfect is seen as a primary theme across the two stories especially where the women are considered to as ideal but destroyed at the end of the stories. The female in both stories are portrayed as kind, beautiful and perfect, and this adds to the tragic effect of each tale. The narrator portrays the men as selfish in their drive for the perfection of the women. Just like the “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Aylmer has a maniacal interest in science and this is the same case with Beatrice’s father that is blinded to the true beauty of the woman before him. Male chauvinism is evident in the two stories. The men are considered to like the ones in control, and they do this by trying to change the lives of the women to perfection. The women are subjected to the male command to the point that they are tragically destroyed at the end of the stories. The men in the two stories consider women as objects for their satisfaction and these women have to uphold beauty above any other thing.


The two stories, however, differ in that Aylmer already has nature's most beautiful creation in his wife but allows a minor thing such as her birthmark to distract him. Rather than trying to appreciate the beauty in his wife, he is keen on trying to perfect it. He is ready to risks the life of his wife in pursuit of Perfections (Hawthorne 18-19). Rappaccini, on the other hand, has a beautiful daughter and treasures her to the extent of imbusing her deadly powers that protect her from unworthy suitors. Geovanni antidote ends up destroying Beatrice in the quest for her beauty. Unlike Rappaccini whose actions are based on the deep treasure that he has for her daughter while Aylmer’s actions are solely based on sexual desires. In the first paragraph of the “The Birthmark,” it begins by stating that “Aylmer could only love his wife if he could intertwine his love of her with his love of science,” and this implies that he oversteps his boundaries both as a scientist and a husband. At the end of the two stories, Aylmer and Rappaccini are both given a chance to change their ways, but they fail to do so.


In conclusion, the male gender is seen as the driver for perfection among the women. However, their quest for the imposition of perfection among the women leaves a tragic trail of destruction and fatality among the women. At the end of the two stories, Aylmer and Rappaccini are both given a chance to change their ways but they fail to do so.

Work Cited

Hawthrone. “Beatrice Rappaccini: A Victim of Male Love and Horror.” American Literature 48.2 (1976), 152-164

Hawthrone. “Hawthorne’s The Birthmark” Explicator 42.4 (1984), 19-21

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