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Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Depravity of Man

            According to Mary Rucker, literary critic and author of Boys Don't Cry, Nathaniel Hawthorne believed that "humanity must shape its aspirations in terms of the decreed conditions of existence, which is unalterably imperfect" (446). Hawthorne's embracement of man's flawed humanity developed through the influence of Puritan philosophies on Hawthorne, igniting his Romantic soul with criticism for the Puritan's belief in total depravity and the corruption of humans' wicked nature. In "The Birthmark" and "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne criticizes the Puritans' belief in the depravity of man to convey his notion that people are inherently flawed, so people must accept their own nature and others' flaws.
             Hawthorne embraces man's imperfect nature by criticizing the Puritan philosophy of total depravity through the characterization of Aylmer and Georgiana in "The Birthmark." Aylmer is significant in "The Birthmark" for symbolizing the Puritans' obsession with the depravity and wickedness in nature, not the beauty in nature. Critic Aurélie Guillain, Professor of American Literature at University of Toulouse, refers to Aylmer as "becom[ing] gradually convinced that the red mark on his wife's skin is the symbol of the innate depravity of human flesh" (49). Aylmer cannot bear to view Georgiana as flawed and corrupted due to depravity; therefore, he insists on removing Georgiana's blemish and connection to humanity to fulfill his conditional love, which is seeing Georgiana as perfect. However, Aylmer's attempt to destroy the birthmark and Georgiana's human nature fails. Katherine Snipes, literary critic and author of Robert Graves, believes the following: "Hawthorne casts all blame for the tragic outcome on the misguided husband [Aylmer], who is not satisfied with the blessings of nature" (Snipes). This "tragic outcome" reflects Hawthorne's objection to Aylmer's notion of ridding the birthmark as well as Hawthorne's criticism for the Puritan belief in the depravity of man.

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