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Disorders in Hawethorne’s "the Birthmark"

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Essay title: Disorders in Hawethorne’s "the Birthmark"

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “The Birthmark” you find a couple fairly prevalent disorders. Although psychology was as of yet not existence, Hawthorne describes them quite well. Alymer suffered from an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, while his actions caused Georgiana to develop a body dysmorphic disorder. Both of which attributed to the eventual demise of Georgiana.

Alymer is an older scientist who marries a beautiful woman much younger then himself. Even though Alymer finds his young bride beautiful, he still says that she is “marked.” Upon Georgiana’s left cheek is a birthmark. The birthmark is small, red, and in the shape of a hand. Alymer believes that this mark takes away from her beauty; even though many other people, men and women alike, thought it to be charming; and those who did not, just “wished it away.”

However, Alymer could not wish away Georgiana’s birthmark. He even approached her about it being removed-

“Georgiana,” said he, “has it never occurred to you that the mark upon your cheek might be removed?”

“No, indeed,” said she, smiling; but perceiving the seriousness of his manner, she blushed deeply. “To tell you the truth it has been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so.” (Hawthorne 306)

Alymer was afflicted with an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. By definition obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is “A personality disorder characterized by a pervasive preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and interpersonal control [ . . . ].” (Medical Net) Characteristics of this disorder include the following:

1) Preoccupation with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules.

2) Perfectionism.

3) Excessive devotion to work to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships.

4) Inability to discard worthless objects of no sentimental value.

5) Reluctance to delegate tasks or work with others unless everything is done their way.

6) Miserliness in regard to oneself and others.

7) Rigidity and stubbornness. (Body Image)

Out of all of the above-mentioned traits, Alymer displays four. However, his rigidity and stubbornness are not caused by his disorder. That could be attributed to Hawthorne’s background, and the era in which this story was written. Other qualities which he exhibits are perfectionism, excessive devotion to work, and miserliness toward others.

Alymer first shows his perfectionism when he tells Georgiana that she "came so nearly perfect,” and calls the birthmark, a “visible mark of earthly imperfection.” (Hawthorne 306) He wishes to have the perfect wife. And Georgiana is young and beautiful. But she has her birthmark which disturbs Alymer greatly. After giving the liquid to his wife, Alymer exclaims, “[ . . . ] You are perfect!” (Hawthorne 316) Another sign that he was a perfectionist was the fact he kept such a detailed record of his work over the years. It is not the fact that the books themselves exist, but that Alymer was not truly satisfied with his work:

“[. . .] she could not [help] but observe that his most splendid successes were almost invariably failures, if compared with the ideal at which he aimed. His brightest diamonds were the merest pebbles, [ . . . ].” (Hawthorne 313)

The second attribute of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder that Alymer displays is excessive working. Since he is such a perfectionist in his science, it’s obvious that he spends the majority of his time in his lab. This doesn’t leave much time for a social life. Because Alymer is preoccupied with work, this causes him to be miserly toward others. He doesn’t show a respect toward his wife’s wishes as he should. He does not want the birthmark on her face, and she, being the good wife she is, agreed.

Alymer was also clearly obsessed with the birthmark. His mind was clouded with thoughts of the mark. It bothered him so deeply he actually became physically repulsed by the sight of it. Worse then that, he dreamt of the tiny red spot on Georgiana’s face. It even

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