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The Modern Significance of Hawthorne’s Suspicion of Science
Many of Hawthorne’s characters are burdened with internal conflicts that are never resolved through a formal resolution. “The Birthmark,” however, has a clearer moral than some of Hawthorne’s other works. The social significance of this story, written more than 150 years ago, remains vividly alive in our modern age. Concern for physical perfection and the battle between scientific progress and human morality are central in today’s society. This essay will examine two main points: First, it will focus on how “The Birthmark” compares to some of Hawthorne’s other works with similar themes; then, he will connect these themes to show how his work explores these themes in detail and can serve as a mirror of modern values.
Hawthorne’s distrust of science is evident in the “mad science” motif used in many of his stories. In “The Birthmark,” Aylmer is a megalomaniac scientist who fancies himself powerful: “No king on his protective throne could live if I, in my special station, considered that the welfare of millions justified me in calling him deprive her of it.” . In “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, Dr. And in “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” the hero tries a fountain of youth on his friends. Although Heidegger’s conclusions are not fatal, like the other two stories, they are indeed unpleasant and no less morally critical.
To put the subject of “The Birthmark” in a modern perspective, we need only repeat that the pursuit of physical perfection and the willingness to go to any lengths to achieve it is one of the great themes of modern thought. Georgianna’s birthmark represents her responsibility to sin, sorrow, decay, and death, and she is willing to risk being removed from it: “There is only danger that this horrible stigma will remain on my cheek. . . . Remove it. Remove it at any cost.” We only need to remember the Phen-fen and Redux debacle of a few years ago and the current “perfection” techniques that are now widely used, such as breast implants, liposuction, and many other cosmetic surgery procedures. Consider it “safe” to see that Aylmer and Georgianna’s wit is still relevant enough today. While it is true that Georgianna did not seem to have a problem with her birthmark until Aylmer created it, it must be said that the influence of family and peers plays an important role in the way people think about themselves and make decisions. . Let’s compare Georgianna’s answer to that of a modern woman considering plastic surgery. Author Kathy Davis takes us into the examination room of a health insurance agency on a morning for applicants seeking coverage for cosmetic surgery:
When the patient walks into the room, I don’t know what to expect. She is a thin, beautiful woman in her early twenties who looks a bit like Nastassia Kinski… Crouched down and with her eyes cast down, she begins to explain that she is “not happy with things “. “I know I shouldn’t [compare] herself to the other women, she whispered, “but I just can’t help it.”
Today’s Aylmers are plastic surgeons and drug-dealing doctors who push the unrealistic notion that a woman’s body is unacceptable unless it looks like a jackpot winner in the “genetic lottery.” Despite changes in cultural beauty ideals over time, one characteristic remains constant according to Davis; that is, that beauty is worth spending time, money, pain, and perhaps life itself. The hand-shaped birthmark that pervaded Georgianna and Aylmer’s world also has a vicarious, oppressive grip on our century—it drains life from some, and humanity from others. As H. Bruce Franklin points out, “The Birthmark” is both a complex science fiction and an interpretation of what Hawthorne saw as science fiction.
“Rappaccini’s Daughter” is another story that investigates a doctor who lives in a poisonous garden and is poisoned himself. Like Aylmer, Rappaccini sees himself as God. This argument is furthered by Franklin’s interpretation of the primary allegory in the story: “Rappaccini, the creator [poisonous Eden], in God’s attempt to show his daughter, the Adam of this reverse Eden, to a modern snake in the grass, Baglioni, who persuades Giovanni like Eve to put deadly food into the paradise of the learned fools.” As he tries to test his to justify to his dying daughter it becomes clear: “Do you see that man is adorned with wonderful gifts… A sorrow that can suffocate the strongest with a breath? Miserable, as terrible as you are beautiful.” This air of superiority is nowhere more evident than today’s doctors whose life-extension machines allow them to truly make life and death decisions. And we, of course, can’t help Dr. Kevorkian and the issue of euthanasia that It has turned into a rhetorical battle that theologians and scientists will never fight over. He says: “Both women die as a result of the efforts made by human science to purify their natures.” Hawthorne with these two stories, morality and human science set a path of reconciliation that has not changed its course to this day.
“Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” introduces a scientist who shares Aylmer’s belief that he can reverse natural processes with the same result: Bad science endangers others. At first glance, Heidegger seems more playful and less dangerous than Aylmer and Rappaccini: “My dear old friends… I want your help in one of those little experiments which I amuse myself by reading.” . But according to Madison Jones, our response to his virtues does not make him any less of a devil. Heidegger’s attempt to manipulate nature by giving eternal youth may be compared to today’s problems of genetic engineering and cloning. Both are attempts to manipulate the natural order of things. The dichotomy of Hawthorne’s time and ours can be reconciled when we consider a problem such as cloning. Dr. Bruce Donald of the Church of Scotland offers: “In the face of such a fertile prospect, the human imagination revolts… we might clone people to select for genetic defects or to select for traits (Donald). Some would say that is a good thing.” but Donald claims that the motives suggested are for the benefit of the person who wants to be cloned, not for the person being cloned, that he created the elixir “for his own pleasure” and not for the benefit of his friends. three stories, Hawthorne extends his list of scientific complaints.
While these three stories offer an immediate insight into modern concerns, Hawthorne’s other stories do the same although they may not be so straightforward. “Ethan Brand” presents another scientist whose pride leads him astray. In this story, Hawthorne creates the model of self-destructive perfectionism; Brand destroys himself as much as Aylmer kills Georgianna (Bunge 30-32). In “The Artist of the Beautiful” Owen tries to make machines seem natural, but his art, like Aylmer’s science, is a desperate attempt to avoid reality. And “Prophetic Pictures” presents us with a painter who thinks he can predict the future and thus, control time. He has a madness unlike Aylmer’s with similar consequences. The relevance of all these stories today can be summed up with one observation by Richard Harter Fogle: “Man’s chief way is to forget his limitations and complications…”
Hawthorne’s prediction about the future was very interesting. Although his work is dated, the ethical questions it raises are still relevant today. Georgianna’s connection to Aylmer’s greed can be compared to today’s women who go on questionable diets and cosmetic procedures. On another note, Hawthorne’s skepticism of science seems a little less unreasonable now than it might have in his time when we consider our ability to destroy the planet with nuclear weapons. Fogle comments that although Hawthorne’s concept of science is often considered old-fashioned by his critics, it seems that the joke has turned against them with the growth of modern science and technology. Aylmer, Rappaccini, and Heidegger represent all the claims of modern science, from miracle diet pills, cosmetic surgeries, and anti-aging creams and drugs, from Minoxidil, to Viagra that allows the “soldier” on permanent KP duty to finally come out. sharp military salute. Some of our “miracle” science seems to work, but some have disastrous results.
Finally, we explored how Hawthorne’s themes form a common link with modern practical and ethical questions. Hawthorne, himself, was obsessed with the past of his ancestors, so it is ironic that he produced a work that would be a prelude to the future. Hawthorne wants us to see that “human perfection” is an oxymoron. On this point, Fogle points out that Aylmer’s tragic flaw is not seeing the tragic flaw of humanity. Hawthorne’s “mad scientists” cannot grasp the fact that humanity and perfection are inseparable. Yet today, we are less likely to buy into the opinions of our mad scientists and snake oil salesmen over the late-night infomercials that flood our society and promise us perfection. Madison Jones sums up Hawthorne’s prediction sharply: “Like so many reformers of our day, Aylmer will either reconstruct human nature or not at all. prophecy”. Hawthorne’s moral urges us to accept our shortcomings. This moral can be summed up in a quote from—of all people—David Letterman. In an interview I recall a few years ago, Letterman was asked by a cast member what he would change about his physical appearance if he could. Letterman’s response was, “Well, I wouldn’t change a thing. I understand, these are the cards I’ve been dealt – what the hell – I’m going to play them”. Hawthorne might have liked Letterman.
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