“To understand a person you must first walk a mile in his shoes.” This famous quote is accurate, however if you do this with one person, and not other people involved in a situation you become biased. When unable to understand everyone’s perspective, it is best not to fully sympathize with one person. This impartial opinion can be especially valuable when writing some stories, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark.” This story was written in third person point of view, and has survived over 150 years of criticism. It is still read by current audiences partially because of the narration of the story. This narration by a person outside of the story, rather than a character from within, does not encourage the reader to sympathize with one character more than another. It also allows the audience to interpret the story and its characters based on how the audience feels.
Aminidab, Aylmer’s assistant, who plays a minor role, says “if she were my wife, I’d never part with that birth-mark” (Birthmark 33). Through these simple eleven words, we learn that he does not think the birthmark should be removed. If Hawthorne had written in first person from Aminidab’s perspective, the audience would be gently encouraged to be completely against the removal of the birthmark and would not have knowledge of conversations between Georgina and Aylmer. Aminidab does not appear to think on his own, and is so dedicated to helping Aylmer that Aminidab even calls him “master” (Birthmark 33). Obviously, this story is better written in third person point of view than from Aminidab’s view.
Aylmer is a scientist who has his head in the clouds, believing that he can do everything, even after repeatedly being proven wrong. Aylmer states, “I am convinced of the perfect practicability of its the birthmark’s removal” (Birthmark 31). Georgiana is completely willing to go along with this, even after she reads his long list of previously failed experiments. Aylmer is full of dreams and honestly believes that he can do anything. Seeing this story from his point of view would lead to the audience feeling sorry for him, and thinking that he is a terrific person. On the surface, this is not bad; however, it takes away from the theme and moral of the story.
Georgiana is driven to seek perfection by her husband, Aylmer. This quest for perfection changes her love for the fairy-hand birthmark to a hatred of the bloody hand. If the story were told from Georgiana’s point of view, the focus would be on how she changed, rather than the causes, and how the other characters were. That would lead to Aylmer being seen in a terrible way.
Using third person point of view, Hawthorne accurately describes the characters and allows the audience to try to understand what each of them is thinking. Since first person would prevent the full comprehension of this theme, Hawthorne appropriately chose third person point of view as best.
A Manual/Casebook for Freshman English: The Birthmark.” Salisbury: Dept. Of English, Salisbury University, 2003.
Fetterly, Judith. “Women Beware Science: ‘The Birthmark.'” The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach To American Fiction. Bloomington and London: Indiana UP, 1978. 22-33.
Rucker, Mary. “Science and Art in Hawthorne’s ‘The Birthmark.’” Nineteenth Century Literature 41.4 (1987): 445-461.
Zanger, Jules. “Speaking the Unspeakable: Hawthorne’s ‘The Birthmark.’” Modern Philology 80.4 (1983): 364-371.