Masterpiece Monday: “The Birthmark”

Bye bye glasses!

Rating: 5 out of 5

BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!

Well, I thought about taking the day off because I’m finally getting LASIK surgery, but then I immediately thought of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Birthmark.” (Yes, this is solid proof I’m a paranoid pessimist).

Hawthorne was, of course, the famous author behind The Scarlet Letter, but he was also a prolific short story writer. “The Birthmark” was first published in 1843, and it told the tale of a scientist named Aylmer and his wife Georgiana. Aylmer thinks that his wife is absolutely perfect…except for her hand-shaped birthmark on her cheek.

Obsessed with the birthmark, he decides to try to remove it, and Georgiana, out of love for her husband, agrees. He had a dream in which he cut the birthmark all the way to her heart, and then cut her heart out too. Obviously, this foreshadowing means doom for Georgiana.

After many failed experiments, Georgiana’s disappointment in a husband who does not accept her flaws causes her to want her mark removed just as desperately, so as to rid them of their madness. When Georgiana drinks a potion made by Aylmer, her birthmark finally fades away, but at the cost of her life.

This moral of this story is relatively easy to comprehend: Accept the flaws of yourself and others, because what’s on the inside is more important than what’s on the outside. I also believe that it shows women that we should not let men try to “fix” us, because there are plenty of good men out there (in this story, it was Aylmer’s assistant Aminadab) who will love us for who we are.

Because Aylmer only made a fuss over Georgiana’s birthmark after they were married, many literary scholars believe the story alludes to Hawthorne’s own sexual guilt. Hawthorne was known for being an emotionally conflicted man, most prominently because one of his ancestors was a cruel Puritan judge during the Salem Witch Trials. The writer even added a “w” to his last name to distance himself from his past. Most of Hawthorne’s stories, therefore, juxtapose natural human desires with religious piety.

As for why this story popped into my head the day of my LASIK surgery, I admit I’m pretty terrified of an Aylmer-sized mistake happening. I also feel nostalgic toward the 15 years in which I’ve been wearing glasses. I never wore contacts due to my inability to stick something in my eyes and my unwillingness to take care of the maintenance. I faced quite a bit of bullying because of my “four eyes,” but I wouldn’t have done anything differently. My glasses have been a part of my identity, and it will be strange to not need them anymore. I can imagine I’ll buy a non-prescription pair for when I miss having them around.

The one thing I can say to anyone who knows someone getting LASIK, is don’t tell them, “You’ll look so much better without glasses!” First off, it’s a passive-aggressive compliment implying they’re ugly in glasses. Secondly, how do you know they’re getting LASIK for appearance’s sake? I like the way I look in glasses, especially the pair I have now. I’m getting the surgery for practical reasons: seeing at night, in the shower, when I’m applying makeup, or when I’m swimming. I would love to not have to wipe them every time my dog licks my face.

Although many insurance companies disagree, LASIK is not a cosmetic surgery, I’m getting it done so I can see. And if a guy all of a sudden is interested in me just because I’m not wearing glasses anymore, then he can go screw himself. I don’t want an Aylmer whose love is only skin-deep.

So whether you have a birthmark, glasses, cellulite, stretch marks, a bald spot, or any other feature that makes you human, don’t worry. Good people will love you, with or without them.

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One thought on “Masterpiece Monday: “The Birthmark”

  1. Pingback: Search Terms Lost in Translation « Book Club Babe

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