"...with a series of tales about the misalliances of men and women, Hawthorne
was writing stories unlike those about bachelors, wanderers, and masqueraders,
and different too from his recent satiric sketches (174).
Take 'The Birth-mark,' published in [James Russell] Lowell's Pioneer and
written not six months after his marriage, during Sophia's first pregnancy.
A young scientist insists on removing the crimson birthmark on his wife's
left cheek that galls and obsesses him; it's the 'sole token of human imperfection,'
says he. With sexual anxiety thinly disguised as cosmetology, he prepares
a stupefying concoction, which his wife obediently drinks. The fatal red mark
disappears, but the potion kills her; the ideal cannot exist in disembodied
form. This is the lesson that Aylmer, the scientist, has to learn... (174-175).
A slap at Emerson and transcendentalism, 'The Birth-mark' is also a murder
story in which a man confronts marriage, and hence sexuality, with horror.
Equally, he wants to prevent a birth. In this sense, Hawthorne's story is
also a fantasy of abortion. The scientist kills his wife and what she produces
so that he in some way can remain alone, untrammeled, asexual, and free from