August 27, 2012

Hand and Hawthorn

While Poe concentrates on an Eye in his stories (this discussed in CME de Oliveira's blog), Hawthorn seems to be obsessed with hands:

1) The birthmark in the story of the same name is in the form of a hand. When it is gone from the cheek of the scientist's wife, life flows away from her.

2) A poisonous mark of the Rappacini's daughter's hand is left on the skin of her not-yet-lover after she touches him, trying to stop him from approaching the poisonous flowers. He is infected through this mark as well as through her breath, as she never touches him anymore.

3) The butterfly in The Artist Of the Beautiful seems to be "working" only from one's hand, and it somehow feels the person's personality through the hand.

Those hands fascinate me even more than eyes in Poe's stories. A hand seems to represent life and to be connected with the soul both as a representation of its disposition and means of reaching and contaminating it.


  1. Hey Kate

    I thought about the hands in Hawthorne as well when I finally started reading his stories last night (I am a little behind this week).

    I have only read The Birthmark this far. In light of last week's reading, I thought of Aylmer as Victor Frankenstein's doppelganger: they both wish to surpass nature (with catastrophic results) and both have fatal problems with communication (Aylmer, for instance, fails to tell his wife about how unsure he is of the experiment's potential success).

    For this reason the image of the hand made me think of Adam, who is made man out of earth and Prometheus, who makes man out of clay. There are at least two references to making a body/soul out of clay in the story: "earthly mould" and "In his grasp the veriest clod of earth assumed a soul."

    The hand here functions as the creative force, whether the hand of nature or the hand of God Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel rendering of the Creation of Man, where God and Adam are touching fingers, comes to mind. Aylmer is using his hands to remove the mark left by nature from his wife's cheek. By doing so, he wishes to imprint a signature by his own artist's hand on her.

    The hand, to me, also signals physical violence: it mimics the mark of a slap across Georgiana's face. And by being such a bully, isn't Aylmer violating her?

    I think Aylmer is most uncomfortable with the little hand's sexual connotation, since it seems to indicate that Georgiana has been 'touched,' breaking the alabaster-perfection of her skin, and by extension signalling her as impure. If I remember correctly, Georgiana does refer to past boyfriends at the start of the tale, and the fact that the birthmark was fairly well-known to them and they found it charming must have made Aylmer mad!

    You've given me lots to think about, so thanks for that. Now all I need to do is read the rest of the stories.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
      You are always much deeper in the analysis, than me :) I also thought about the "touched" interpretation, and about slapping, but it has never struck me that it can allude to Frankenstein and the Creation. This fresco at the Sistine Chapel has always fascinated me, and it fits perfectly in the whole hand issue!
      I've also searched for something about hand symbolism and found this: very helpful.
      I will probably try to write an essay about hands, but I doubt that it will be very brilliant, I'm also a bit behind, as I have a lot of work this week.
      Hope you will enjoy other stories!

  2. PS: your post and our discussion inspired the assignment I turned in! I was originally going to write about the House of Usher but simply could not resist the lure of the hand. Here it is:

  3. The hand is prominent in ancient rock art glyphs throughout the Southwest; still prominent in Southwest art as sign of luck (I have a Dine designed ring that with the shape of a hand inscribed with a spiral); in Egypt as a sign against the evil eye, manifested by henna hand prints on walls and even livestock.

    1. Thanks for the info, Vanessa! I've heard about evil eye and luck aspects of the hand, but not much. However, rock glyphs were something new to me. I googled the pictures, and they are just fascinating!!


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