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Characterization of Beatrice and Georgiana in Hawthorne’s Works

Nathaniel Hawthorne is a renowned 19th century writer who combined romantic elements with science in his artistic works. For instance, in his stories, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and “The Birthmark,” he emphasizes similar aspects revolving around human nature and its fascination for perfection (Resetarits, 2012). Hawthorne successfully integrates deep feelings such as love, desire for perfection, passion, and obsession with science. Interestingly, he manages to create the same themes using different plots, characters, and settings in the two texts. In “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” Rappaccini, Beatrice’s father, used his experiment to insert poisonous substances in her daughter’s body to fulfill his scientific desires (Cook, 2005). Equally, in “The Birthmark,” Aylmer, Georgiana’s husband, perceives his wife’s birthmark as a symbol of sin and mortality, and thus, compels her to erase it to attain actual perfection. Essentially, Hawthorne uses Beatrice and Georgiana to explore men’s anxieties about female sexuality, which forces them to apply science to destroy women’s innocence and beauty to achieve personal fulfillment or satisfy their sense of perfection.

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Foremost, Hawthorne utilizes Beatrice and Georgiana as his main characters to demonstrate men’s foolishness in striving towards achieving perfection through manipulation of the women. God created humans in his highest level of greatness such that they cannot be copied or imitated. However, as the creator, some features that God bestowed in human beings make them anxious, thus prompting desires to pursue other means to attain perfection. For example, in “The Birthmark,” we see Aylmer trying to erase his wife’s birthmark, yet God created it with a purpose (Marsh, 2016). In his perception, birthmarks in females’ cheeks signify visible marks of earthly imperfections. Aylmer’s perfectionist personality erodes his ability to see his wife’s beauty, appealing to other males. Correspondingly, the story of “Rappaccini’s Daughter” also relates to a selfish human desire, which inspires Rappaccini to create absolute protection to save his daughter from the world’s harm. Indeed, he poisoned his daughter to satisfy his scientific exploration. Sadly, in both writings, the failure to trust in God’s works leads to Beatrice’s and Georgiana’s deaths as they seek to fulfill males’ perfectionism.

Additionally, the author utilizes the two characters to explore and enlighten his audience about the theme of science versus nature. In “The Birthmark,” a tale full of exciting scientific and magical experiments, nature reveals itself to be more powerful than all human-made creations (Resetarits, 2012). Although Aylmer can create amazing aromas and lovely sights from nothing, he cannot extend her wife’s life or control her spirit. On her part, Georgiana has a gift that originates from nature rather than science, which helps control her husband’s spirits. For instance, Aylmer asks her to sing to him when his spirits disturbed him. According to Howard (2012), the beauty of Georgiana’s voice helped to restore Aylmer’s good mood. Consequently, unlike her husband’s magical and scientific powers, her voice is wholly natural but has a significant impact. Besides, Georgiana’s birthmark exhibits nature’s supremacy because it intoxicates and captivates nearly everyone who sees it. Unfortunately, the attempts to control nature with science in both stories end in unhappiness and death.

Significantly, Hawthorne uses Beatrice and Georgiana to align with his writing style characterized by gothic attributes and motifs. Gothic literature’s most common themes revolve around power, isolation, and confinement, among other mysteries. In this regard, the author utilized two characters to shape the plot of his stories to fit the gothic genre. Yoshii (2020) argues that the description of Beatrice’s birthmark helps to highlight her imperfections and purity. The family also seems to reside in an isolated world full of horrifying scientific and natural powers. Equally, the “Rappaccini’s Daughter” story starts by describing a garden full of flowery plants whose beauty is likened to that of Beatrice. This setting’s creation helps the author expand his tale’s plot aligning his motifs and themes to gothic context. As the story unfolds, the Beatrice’s scientific treatment, which protects her from world’s harm, assists in incorporating other characters who fit in the horrifying scenes. Lastly, Beatrice and Georgiana help the author strengthen the gothic fiction’s vital element, characterized by burdened male protagonists, as illustrated by Aylmer and Rappaccini.

In the two stories, Beatrice and Georgiana also help Hawthorne reflect on women’s position in the age of scientific innovation and advancement. He uses both characters to foreshadow the possible predicament of females with uncontrolled scientific experiments. Indeed, Georgiana and Beatrice represent the 19th century women who innocently obey men’s rules in a male chauvinistic society. Their innocence and purity, mainly emanating from their partners’ love, relate to the perfection of nature. Consequently, the author used these two main characters to demonstrate how females are ready to obey scientists’ rules and sacrifice themselves although they remain conscious of the possible adverse outcomes. For example, despite the awareness of the operation’s risks, Georgiana agreed to erase the birthmark to satisfy Aylmer’s obsession (Resetarits, 2012). Similarly, Beatrice decides to take the antidote to demonstrate her love to Giovanni. Consequently, although Georgiana and Beatrice are not science advocators as Rappaccini and Aylmer, they agree on everything, including death, due to their obedience and respect. Arguably, Hawthorne warns women against becoming the victims of scientific experiments.

Both tales also demonstrate the author’s concern that humans should accept their limits, and trying to break them can only result in death and agony. Accordingly, he uses Beatrice’s and Georgiana’s characterization to incorporate two primary symbols, which could help the readers envision human boundaries in the subject of nature versus science. In the “The Birthmark,” Georgiana’s birthmark signifies blemish, which symbolizes her as mortal (Yoshii, 2020). Although Aylmer is a wise man, he misinterprets the birthmark and believes that removing such a symbol of transience would strengthen his powers to prolong life forever. Unfortunately, although the poisonous liquid successfully erases the birthmark, Georgiana shortly dies. On his part, Rappaccini nourishes her daughter with the venom of beautiful flowers, which make her poisonous. Beatrice feels isolated and agrees to take a life-saving antidote, which leads to her death (Resetarits, 2012). Subsequently, the garden and birthmark symbolisms show readers that humans have limits, and it is risky to interfere with nature.

The two Hawthorne’s works demonstrate that desire for perfection can be dangerous. They emphasize the dire need to accept human limitations and stop interfering with nature. The use of two main female characters signifies how women can be victims of scientific innovation due to their affection or love for science advocators. Human beings are ready to sacrifice anything, including their daughters, or take the impossible risk to become famous or correct nature mistakes in the modern world. Consequently, people should separate science from personal desires because they might lose control, just as Aylmer and Rappaccini did. Georgiana and Beatrice lost their lives due to uncontrolled desires of accomplishing something new or attaining perfection.

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Cook, J. (2005). The biographical background to “Rappaccini’s Daughter”. Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, 31(2), 34-73.

Howard, J. (2012). Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Birth-mark. The Explicator, 70(2), 133-136.

Marsh, C. (2016). Hawthorne’s distillery: Time and temperance in “The Birth-Mark” and other tales. American Literature, 88(4), 723-753.

Resetarits, C. R. (2012). Experiments in sex, science, gender, and genre: Hawthorne’s “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” “The Birthmark,” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” Literary Imagination, 14(2), 178-193.

Yoshii, C. (2020). Humanity as matter: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s vivacious materialism in “The Birth-Mark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” Literary Imagination, 22(3), 225-237.

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