Bioethics and the Birthmark

Subject: Art
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 6
Word count: 1763
Topics: Film Analysis, Bioethics, Biotechnology, Ecology, Film Review

Nathaniel Hawthorne explores bioethics as a theme in his short story, The Birthmark. The scientists believe that they can identify and perfect the nature’s faults. In the process of trying to eliminate what nature has implanted in people, such as the skin colors, birthmarks, body sizes, natural beauty, et cetera, the processes fail or are short-lived, endanger lives, and more saddening, cause deaths. The theme of a man trying to challenge nature in all aspects is an issue that has become significant in the society of today, just as in the situation that the story in the Hawthorne’s essay gives. When Hawthorne wrote The Birthmark, scientists, and other people glorified science. According to Rieder (2017), human believed that science could solve all the worlds’ issues and define the direction of humanity. However, the exuded failure of a scientific process exhibited in the story confirms that science has its limitations. The story awakens minds of people and unmasks the dangers behind trying to change what nature has put in place. Human is, nevertheless, defiant and just like in the essay, people would rather subject their lives to danger by willfully undergoing physical transformation than to maintain their natural appearance, just to ensure they are more physically attractive and alluring to the masses. Today, plastic surgery has lost the original purpose of being a medical necessity to being widely practiced as a business enterprise. Hawthorne allows his readers to explore the situations that would make people go an extra mile just to achieve physical beauty/perfection.

From the story The Birthmark by Hawthorne, nature characterizes God as the creator of all things. The book gives a story of a man who tries to carry out surgery in his wife to remove what he claimed to be an annoying and irritating birthmark. At first, the operation seems successful, but later the wife could not sustain the consequences and unfortunately dies. The husband believes, despite the dangers, that he has the power to sort and repair what he considers as a flaw that nature left on his wife’s face. His endeavors, however, fail terribly and lead to death. From the scenario, nature depicts itself as jealous, often guards her secrets and cannot be matched or beaten by science or man. Nature sets boundaries that humankind can utilize for their scientific endeavors (Myers, 2016). However, man has, even to date, ignored the nature’s boundaries due to greed and the unbounded scientific urge, thereby exposing humanity to great dangers.

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Human nature can never be perfect. Humankind is prone to flaws and to achieve perfection is virtually impossible. Physical imperfections will always exist and striving to eliminate them puts life in danger (Myers, 2016). One mistake people make is to try and use all the means to make themselves physically appeal to the masses.  Today, human seek plastic surgery as a beauty process rather than a medical process. Since a lot of money is used for the operation, business people now utilize the platform as an opportunity to amass wealth. People seeking to be celebrities are the major victims of the dangers of plastic surgery. There are many consequences and physical issues that are likely to result from failed plastic surgery. It has caused deaths as well as permanent disabilities to some people. As indicated by Myers (2016), a lot of money may be required on a daily basis to maintain the artificial body or to balance the chemicals introduced for the same purpose.

Scientists understand quite well the dangers of plastic surgery and know that it should be conducted on human only when it is medically necessary. However, because of greed and experimentation pursuit, most scientists ignore the signs of the possible repercussions as long as their business ambitions are met. On the other hand, the people pursuing plastic surgery are ignorant and unaware of the dangers of the process. In most cases, they are blinded by the supposed beauty that they aim at achieving. Some practitioners ignore the risks and warnings and go ahead to conduct the process on their clients anyway. In The Birthmark, Aylmer the scientist character is blindly obsessed by the birthmark in Georgiana, his wife. He considers it a flaw, and he is determined to eradicate using laboratory processes, which he apparently understands the attached dangers (Hawthorne, 2015). Also, despite the warnings he receives, he goes ahead to convince his wife to undertake the surgery. The process fails, and Georgiana dies as a result. In the story, Hawthorne illustrates the incapability and flaws on humanity and the consequences that come as a result of foolish obsession.

In the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction dated March 2017, it was noted that the works of Hawthorne often showed fictions in science. In his notebook, there were records of work he was able to complete while others, until his death, he was not able to finish. In The Birthmark essay, he depicts how the scientists can employ creative as well as destructive skills to humanity. Human ambitions can make them do all that they may seem necessary to achieve it (Hawthorne, 2015). The author of The Birthmark was disturbed by the deceptive beauty and attractiveness of artificial. Many people are willing to use toxic elixir in the name of seeking appealing physical character. Humans tend to think that they need more additives in their bodies to look perfect. The closer one looks at a human, the more flaws one sees.

In his journal dated October 1837, Hawthorne wrote that a person is likely to see more imperfections on closer look to the nature of humankind. He also used an analogy of a microscope and polished steel. On closer observation of a glossy steel surface using a lens, a rough surface will be discovered. What may seem rough in nature’s artistry will likely show infinitely small perfections, the closer you look (Hawthorne, 2015). The reason why these observations are the way they seem is that of superiority if nature’s work over man’s work. Nature creates from the innermost germ whereas a man can only impact creation superficially (Hawthorne, 2015). When artificial struggles with nature by, for instance, applying synthetic surgery, there is a high probability of loss. The writer clearly enables his readers to understand the boundaries between scientific experimentations and nature’s delivery.

In The Birthmark, the characters, Aylmer and his wife, Georgiana teach the society plenty of lessons regarding synthetic perfection. Aylmer dedicated the better part of his life in trying to look for ways to conquer nature (Hawthorne, 2015). He, however, failed as depicted in his notebook that his wife saw and read when he mistakenly forgot it at the desk in a room he prepared to soothe his wife. In the world today, scientists tend to spend a lot of time in trying to look for better ways to replace the nature’s work with artificial. Since the time of Hawthorne, now over a century, science continuously attempts to make conquests over nature, what has never been accomplished successfully. The struggle to overcome nature by science and the drastic consequences is what the author of the birthmark lays his storyline upon.

The story also covers the modern themes, for instance, those that tackle cosmetic surgery. The actress by the name Lili Taylor referred to the genre of Hawthorne, The Birthmark when she elaborating her denial to undergo rhytidectomy. Also, in the year 2002, the President of the United States, George W. Bush set a bioethics council that was guided by the principles in the writings of Hawthorne, including The Birthmark (O’Brien, 2014). The chairman of the council gave an opening note with the following comments: The Birthmark entails certain critical driving forces relating to appreciation and growth in medicine and modern biology, human aspirations to eradicate imperfections and to pursue some element of perfection. These are the objectives into which technology and science are put into service. However, in thinking about the human birthmark, these are what human are born with and, thereby sets the base of bioethics (O’Brien, 2014). This matter is very significant and engaging and, therefore, must be approached with sober minds, open to discussions and methods that will enable the team to arrive at a proper decision.

In the story Hawthorne, the scientist has a beautiful wife, but he is distracted by a hand-shaped birthmark on her cheek. This mark horrifies Aylmer and troubles him a lot. The disturbing gaze at Georgiana, her wife, soon disturbs her, and at this point, she was willing to adhere to any cure her husband would devise (Hawthorne, 2015). According to Olster (2017) in the journal, The Cambridge Introduction to Hawthorne, Person writes that Aylmer represents the modern day’s plastic surgeon or Pygmalion, creating or recreating a woman as though she were a sculpture (Olster, 2017). In a similar note, the literature scholar Fetterley depicts the tale as a vivid analysis of exposures to mechanisms whereby neurosis is disguised as science, hatred as love and success as failure.

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As it is seen in the story, Aylmer’s scientific process destroys his wife, who he intended to make perfect. This is also the paradox in plastic surgery that is often conducted to perfect human. The chemicals used, instead of benefiting users, only results in the slow death of cells, organs, and ultimately the entire body (Olster, 2017). People should not hate their skin or others because of any superficial reasons like birthmarks. In trying to eliminate a birthmark, Aylmer lost his wife. The only time when he realizes the beauty of the birthmark was when it was disappearing from his wife’s cheek.


In conclusion, Hawthorne allows his readers to explore the situations that would make people go extra miles just to achieve physical beauty/perfection. The story of Hawthorne awakens the minds of people and unmasks the dangers of trying to alter what nature has created. In bioethics, science must understand its position in interacting with human’s life. People need to understand the dangers in plastic surgeries and related operations and comprehend the position of each of them. Just like in The Birthmark, being defiant to what God has naturally put into its place can bring dangers and drastic repercussions. Mere physical attractive and alluring to the masses should not be the driving motivator to carrying out plastic surgery. Every mankind is uniquely created with his beauty and level of perfection. The process involving plastic surgery should be respected and be used on when there is an original purpose, that is, the medical necessity, and not to be practiced as a business enterprise.

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  1. Annas, G. J. (2004). American bioethics: Crossing human rights and health law boundaries. Oxford University Press.
  2. Hawthorne, N. (2015). The birth-mark. Booklassic.
  3. Myers, N. (2016). Aylmer: A Man of Science and Power.
  4. O’Brien, C. (2014). The US President’s Council on Bioethics (2001-2009). Embryo Project Encyclopedia.
  5. Olster, S. (2017). The Cambridge Introduction to Contemporary American Fiction. Cambridge University Press.
  6. Rieder, J. (2017). Science Fiction and the Mass Cultural Genre System. Wesleyan University Press.
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