Most Of The Classic Avant-Garde Films Were Not Widely Seen The Modern Significance of Hawthorne’s Suspicion of Science

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The Modern Significance of Hawthorne’s Suspicion of Science

Many of Hawthorne’s characters are burdened by internal conflicts that are never resolved into an amicable resolution. “The Birthmark”, however, has a more clearly defined moral than some of Hawthorne’s other works. The social significance of this story written over 150 years ago survives into our modern times with alarming clarity. The obsession with physical perfection and the battle between scientific progress and human morality are paramount in the minds of many in today’s society. This article will explore two main points: first, it will focus on how “The Birthmark” compares to some of Hawthorne’s other works with similar themes; next, it will bring these themes together to show how his work explores these issues in gruesome detail and serves as a mirror to modern values.

Hawthorne’s distrust of science is reflected in the “mad scientist” motif used in many of his stories. In “The Birthmark”, Aylmer is a megalomaniacal scientist who thinks himself all-powerful: “No king on his guarded throne can keep his life if I, in my private station, should think that the welfare of millions justified me in denying him this” . In “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, Dr. Rappaccini is a “mad scientist” who conducts experiments on his daughter involving poisonous plants. And in “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”, the main character experiments with a fountain of youth elixir on his friends. Even if Heidegger’s results are not fatal, as in the other two stories, they are, in fact, tragic and less subject to ethical criticism.

To put the theme of “The Birthmark” in a modern perspective, we need only repeat that the pursuit of physical perfection and the willingness to go to any length to obtain it is one of the great themes of modern-day thought. . Georgianna’s birthmark symbolizes her responsibility to sin, sorrow, decay, and death and she is willing to forego the danger involved in order to get rid of it: “There is only one danger—that this terrible stain will be left on my cheek… Remove it, remove it, whatever the cost.” We only have to remember the Phen-fen and Redux debacle of a few years ago and think about the current “perfection” procedures that are now widely used such as breast implants, liposuction, and many other dubiously “safe” cosmetics surgery procedure to see that Aylmer and Georgianna’s mindset is still quite relevant today. While it’s true that Georgianna doesn’t seem to have an issue with her birthmark until Aylmer makes it an issue, it must be said that family and peer influence play an important role in the way people think about themselves. and in their decision making. . Let’s compare Georgianna’s response to a modern woman considering plastic surgery. Author Kathy Davis takes us inside a health insurance agency’s morning examination room for applicants seeking coverage for cosmetic surgery:

I had no idea what to expect when the patient entered the room. She is a thin, beautiful woman in her early twenties who looks a bit like Nastassia Kinski… Hunched forward and with eyes cast down, she begins to explain that she is “unhappy with what she has”. “I know I shouldn’t [compare] myself with another woman”, he whispered, “but I just can’t help it.”

The Aylmers of today are the plastic surgeons and drug-dealing physicians who feed the unrealistic notion that a woman’s body is unacceptable unless it turns out to be a jackpot winner in the “genetic lottery”. Despite changes in cultural beauty ideals over time, one feature remains constant according to Davis; that is, that beauty is worth spending time, money, pain, and maybe even life itself. The hand-shaped birthmark that pervades Georgianna and Aylmer’s world also has an addictive vice-like grip on our century—it squeezes the lives of some, and the humanity of others. As H. Bruce Franklin points out, “The Birthmark” is both a complex work of science fiction and a commentary on what Hawthorne saw as science fiction.

“Rappaccini’s Daughter” is another story that explores research gone berserk because the doctor creates a daughter who lives in a poisonous garden and poisons herself. Like Aylmer, Rappaccini sees himself as God-like. This argument is advanced by Franklin’s interpretation of the main allegory in the story: “Rappaccini, created [poisonous Eden], in an effort to become God exposes his daughter, the Adam of this upside-down Eden, to a modern grass snake, Baglioni, who persuades the Eve-like Giovanni to introduce the deadly food into paradise of the educated fool”. is evident as he tries to justify his experiment on his dying daughter: “Do you consider it a hardship to bestow such wonderful gifts… Struggle to appease the most powerful by breath? Misery, to be as terrible as you are beautiful”. This air of omnipotence is nowhere more evident than in today’s physicians whose life-prolonging machinery allows them to literally decide life and death. And of course, we cannot forget the good Dr. Kevorkian and the issue of euthanasia which has become a rhetorical battle that theologians and scientists will probably never agree on. Aylmer and Rappaccini can be compared by comparing Georgianna and Beatrice. In his critical responding to the stories, Madison Jones observes: “Both women die as a result of the attempts, made by human science, to purify their natures.” In both stories, Hawthorne sets human morality and science on a collision course that has not changed its path to the present day.

“Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” introduces a scientist who shares Aylmer’s confidence that he can reverse natural processes with the same result: bad science that puts others at risk. At first glance, Heidegger seems more playful and less dangerous than Aylmer and Rappaccini: “My dear friends… I desire your help in one of the little experiments with which I am amusing myself with my studies”. But according to Madison Jones, our response to his virtues does not diminish him. Heidegger’s attempt to manipulate nature by imparting eternal youth may be analogous to today’s issues 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 combined when we consider an issue such as cloning. Dr. Bruce Donald of the Church of Scotland offers: “Faced with such bleak prospects, the human imagination runs wild… we can clone people to pick out genetic defects or select for desirable ones- desired trait (Donald). is a good thing but Donald contends that the motives suggested are for the sake of the person who wants to do the cloning, not for the person who does it. It is strikingly close to the motives of Dr .Heidegger, because we have evidence to support that he created the elixir “for his own amusement” rather than for the benefit of his friends.

While these three stories offer 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 a model of self-destructive perfection; Brand destroys himself precisely as Aylmer kills Georgianna (Bunge 30-32). In “The Artist of the Beautiful” Owen tries to naturalize machinery, but his art, like Aylmer’s science, is a desperate attempt to evade reality. And “The Prophetic Pictures” introduces us to an artist who thinks he can predict the future, and thus, control time. He has a madness not unlike Aylmer’s and with similar consequences. The modern significance of all these stories can be summed up well in an observation by Richard Harter Fogle: “Man’s main temptation is to forget his limitations and complexities…”

Hawthorne’s vision of the future is quite remarkable. Although his work is dated, the ethical questions he raises remain valid today. Georgianna’s absorption in Aylmer’s fascination can be compared to women today jumping on the bandwagon of fad diets and questionable cosmetic procedures. On another point, Hawthorne’s suspicion of science seems as illogical today as it might have been in his time when we consider our capacity to destroy the planet with nuclear weapons. Fogle commented that while Hawthorne’s concept of science was generally considered old-fashioned by his critics, the joke seemed to turn on 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 potions, to Minoxidil, to Viagra that allows the “soldier” to permanent duty to the KP to finally issue a sharp military salute. Some of our “miracle” science appears to work, but some has dire consequences.

Finally, we examine how Hawthorne’s themes form a common bond with modern practical and ethical questions. Hawthorne, himself, had a fascination with his ancestral past, so ironically he produced work that would prove to be a precursor to the future. Hawthorne wants us to see that “perfect man” is an oxymoron. At this point, Fogle says that Aylmer’s tragic flaw is not seeing the tragic flaw in humanity. Hawthorne’s “mad scientists” cannot grasp the fact that humanity and imperfection are inseparable. But even today, we don’t engage much in the wooing of our own mad scientists and snake oil salesmen in the late night infomercials that populate our society and promise us perfection. Madison Jones sums up Hawthorne’s view perfectly: “Like many reformers of our time, Aylmer would restore human nature or else no longer. prophecy”. Hawthorne’s moral pleads with us to accept our own imperfections. This moral can be expressed by a quote from—of all people—David Letterman. In an interview I remember from a few years ago, Letterman was asked by an actor what he would change about his physical appearance if he could. Letterman’s response was, “Well, I wouldn’t change a thing. I guess these are the cards I’ve been dealt-what the hell- I’ll play ’em”. Hawthorne must have liked Letterman.

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