Birthmark Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Birthmark : Characters

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  1. Aminadab

    Aminadab is Aylmer’s laboratory assistant. He is hairy and squat, looking primitive in appearance. He is said to be the type of material man, completely at home in the physical world. He has “mechanical readiness and ability but does not understand a single principle.” He carries out Aylmer’s orders without understanding what the experiments mean. He does not understand Aylmer’s repulsion at the birthmark and claims if Georgiana were his wife, he would love the birthmark. When Aylmer fails at his experiment, Aminadab’s chuckle represents the triumph of the material world over the ideal world of Aylmer's aspirations.

  2. Aylmer

    Aylmer has already become a world-famous scientist before meeting Georgiana. He is recognized in Europe and by the prestigious Royal Society in London. His past is revealed when Georgiana looks at the books in his laboratory. She sees not only the Transactions of the Royal Society that include all the respectable and modern scientific studies, but also the ancient texts of the alchemists that portend Aylmer's interest in the occult and his desire to discover Mother Nature's secrets, as he puts it. She also reads the book recording his own experiments and is alarmed to see his many failures there. Aylmer dismisses failure, perhaps because science advances by mistakes as well as successes. Aylmer's talents seem unlimited, for he shows his wife various inventions that seem to prefigure actual inventions, such as photography and some sort of moving pictures on a screen. He goes even further, suggesting magic when he makes a plant grow instantly and begins to dissolve the birthmark through fragrances. He creates a room with artificial sensory stimuli and colored lamps. He shows Georgiana what the alchemists call the elixir vitae that prolongs life indefinitely. Aylmer is a perfectionist ( as shown by his distaste for Georgiana's tiny flaw on her beauty) and a man of overweening pride when he announces the birthmark the symbol of her original sin that he will dissolve. Nevertheless, he is also seen as a type of the spiritual man who does not want to be bound by the physical restrictions of human life. He is compared and contrasted to the gross Aminadab. In the laboratory, Aylmer is no longer the noble thinker, but sweats over his experiment, pale and nervous. Ultimately, he is a man with mixed qualities, symbol of the duality of human life.

  3. Georgiana

    Georgiana's character is noble despite Aylmer's distaste for her perceived flaw. She is beautiful and was loved by her family and suitors who thought the birthmark was charming. She, however, begins to despise herself because of her husband's loathing for her appearance. She is willing to die just to please him. She could be seen by modern readers as weak for submitting to a tyrannical and obsessed husband, but after she reads the books in the laboratory, she decides that though Aylmer is wrong in his assessment and not as skillful as he believes, he represents the heroic nobility of men who labor to extend human knowledge. She wants to be his partner in the experiment instead of a victim. She goes into the situation knowing what will happen but with her eyes open. She wants to please him even for a moment and is willing to take the risk. Aylmer finally respects her for this, although he does not like her criticism of his work or her spying on him in the lab. He even kisses the birthmark as it fades. Only as she dies does he see her as precious to him. She forgives him with her last breath, telling him he is great for his aspiration, but he has rejected the best earth has to offer him. Georgiana as a woman, and Nature as a Mother with secrets, combine here in a symbol of the mysterious Feminine as the Other. Aylmer wants to control the feminine, and he fails.


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