HAWTHORNE’S BIRTHMARK AND YOUNG GOODMAN BROWN
Hawthorne was born 1804 and brought up in Salem, Massachusetts to a Puritan family. When Hawthorne was four, his father died. After this incident he was mostly in the female company of his two sisters, an aunt and his retiring mother who was not close to her offspring. Hawthorne was known as a reserved personality but during four years at college he established close friendships with his male classmates, several of which he continued for life. “Young Goodman Brown” was published in 1835, when Nathaniel Hawthorne was 31 years old. “Birthmark” was published as a short story in Mosses from an Old Manse in 1846.
Writing style relating to ethics and symbolism
Hawthorne is known as an American Romanticist and his style influenced by such noteworthy authors as Herman Melville, William Faulkner and Henry James. His work enlightens the real characters in the society, the matters, which need some education and discussion. “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Birthmark,” illustrates themes like alienation, guilt, symbolism, pride treated as evil, and moralizing story as the major areas of consideration in his book.
Hawthorne’s narratives addresses larger issues like ethics and social morality, which can be illustrated in works like Young Goodman Brown and the Birthmark.
“Young Goodman Brown” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Puritanism, religion and culture are the major ingredients of “Young Goodman Brown.” The writer describes the absorbed nature of his family and ancestors in puritan society and the contrast between the Salem of his ancestors and the one in his times. The choice between isolation and society recurs in “Young Goodman Brown.”
Birthmark” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Aylmer is a scientist. He has devoted his life to science and discoveries to make a change. He eventually falls in love with a beautiful almost perfect woman, and briefly interrupts his work routine to marry her. All is well until he notices a strange birthmark on his wife’s left cheek. He interprets this mark as an unlucky ugly blemish on her beauty. He tries to ignore but fails to do so. The constant appearance of her wife with that mark on her face overtakes an obsession to remove it and it grows more and more intolerable to him. The major topic in his work here is the relationship issues and its obsession. Like in this case, the birthmark’s very existence threatens to ruin the once-perfect marriage.
In the story “Young Goodman Brown” both Brown and the reader are given choices to perceive what is happening. The book reflects the 17th century Puritanism. Brown experiences the dark, evil forest correlated and would have been recognized by Puritans as a symbol of mistrust of their own corrupt hearts. The forest symbolizes the darkness and evil in a person’s heart.
Brown thinks that he recognizes voices of his minister, deacon, and of his wife, but can’t be certain since their figures are not visible (2133-34) Over here the writer is telling the readers by the study of the characters, using peoples’ voice to feel their personality. To draw some outline as to whom he is talking to.
The Birthmark portrays similar issues but at an individual level, the conflict of science and nature deep within the psyche of human existing if only in allegory. Such exploration of the inner self surpasses the American gothic settings of Hawthorne’s book and allows the science of today to seek a balance. In the following lines for instance one of the most notable features of Aylmer’s lab of science is that there are no windows, as sunlight would “interfere with his chemical processes” (Hawthorne, 969.) Which means that Aylmer does not accept any outside interference in his work and isolates himself within his beliefs, whether these were morally correct or incorrect.
There is a mixture of pride and guilt in Hawthorne’s writing. He is proud of his ancestors being accepted as the wise and prominent in the history of Salem. But simultaneously ashamed that his ancestor’s were a part of witch trials and intolerant prosecution of Quakers. As seen in his book (Hawthorne 2131), he refers to historical witches; he doesn’t believe in myths. His moral convictions oppose such beliefs.
In the forest Brown saw…” (Hawthorne 2135). Brown chooses to see that all were evil and depraved and lost his chance at redemption when he chose to isolate himself and to “shrink from his Faith.” He notices that the good was alive, and the bad nevertheless managed to stand against the moraled as well. Whereas in the Birthmark, the wife Georgina realizes the mark must be removed at any cost to save her marriage: “Let the attempt be made, at whatever risk. Danger is nothing to me… while this hateful mark makes me the object of your horror and disgust, life is a burden which I would fling down with joy.” Only Aminadab, Aylmer’s faithful assistant, sees to the heart of the problem. “I might wish to put off this birthmark…” (Hawthorne). Georgina, is so much under pressure and constant pain of being an inconvenience in her husband’s perfect existence that she prefers death and forgets her moral self than being a reason of her husband’s agony and pain. She refuses to be the source of tension and live a life without her ethics.
Hawthorne discusses the past consequences of the Puritan era and the modern religious and cultural issues of the new era, the Second Great Awakening. Puritanism also affects the people of past times in a negative way. The believers consider the negative aspects of humanity rather than their fortune and other qualities they posses. Hawthorne could not escape the puritan culture and the religion. His works, Goodman Brown and the Birthmark reflects this heritage and allow the readers to see the consequences of mistrust, self-doubt, which create frustration and takes away one’s own beliefs and peace. To Hawthorne, Puritanism can only be seen as an endless cycle of distress in which man is the most depraved and most worthless.
These symbolic actions are portrayed in the Birthmark. The consequences faced by the scientist were of loosing his wife forever in order to get rid of her birthmark. He is very confident of himself and makes a potion with which the mark disappears but subsequently takes Georgina’s life. ”He failed to look beyond the…” (Hawthorne)
These stories like many others have such depth of meaning and continued connection to the present is truly a statement of the power of Hawthorne’s writing. Both the stories revolve around real life characters. The Birthmark and Young Goodman Brown reveal Puritan ideology of morality and ethics. Even though Hawthorne presented it in a negative manner, one could easily relate its dire consequences in today’s world. Undoubtedly, generations to come will be able to appreciate the concepts within these stories, as they are timeless.
The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1846)
Young Goodman Brown (1835)