Original symbols of beauty and objects of fantasy morph into disgust inducing forms in the shape of hands. Jumping head first into a loveless marriage with fantasies of everlasting love is the downfall of one marriage while a birthmark which was said to have added to the attraction becomes the decisive key to death in another. Both “The Hand” by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne give voice to women who, in one form or another, encounter a hand that they originally admire but which all too soon after marriage becomes repulsive. Hands, marriage and male domination are all key factors within both stories.Order now
The young wife in Colette’s story is introduced lying beside her husband, in cozy yet strangely different surroundings than in what she grew up. While he sleeps, she draws in her mind the details that are shaping and outlining their estranged marriage. “Too happy to sleep” (Bedford 259), she thinks to herself giddily. She feels a tremor go through the arm she lies upon and glances at the hand that the arm is attached to. Staring at it, multiple thoughts run through her mind and she becomes entranced by it, becoming speechless in its description and becoming frightened when “an electric jolt ran through the hand” (Bedford 260). The words begin to flow and the hand has now become “vile” and “apelike”. Hawthorne’s young wife, Georgina, is also fascinated with a hand, not of the physical form but as a birthmark upon her left cheek. “It has been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so” (Bedford 402), she replies to her husband, Aylmer. The opinions and looks from Aylmer eventually change Georgina’s perspective and she begins to hate the mark on her cheek: “Not even Aylmer now hated it so much as she” (Bedford 408). This transformation of views on a particular “object” going from like to dislike is one of the core similar elements in both stories.
Both Colette and Hawthorne’s female characters are recently married to man whom they both think they love. For the young wife, her marriage is a change in environment and a dream-like state, though literal reality in this case, to a recently widowed man whose background she does not know. For Georgina, her marriage is to a scientist, well-known for his effective discoveries, and who initially loves her for her “perfect” looks. The young wife realizes through the monstrous hand that she has gotten herself into a bind that she could no longer escape, a marriage where love was not the deciding factor and the deciding factor becomes something she deeply regrets. Georgina becomes well aware of the disgust her husband has for the mark on her face and she suspects that the love that drove him to marry her was slowly losing the battle with the disgust that becomes clearly evident in his reactions upon seeing her face. Both marriages begin to deteriorate and in both cases, a night of deep observation was all it took.
As the young wife has only known her husband for a month, she comes to a realization while staring down at his hand. Her fears pronounce awareness about her husband’s hand: strong and in a disconnect way; it belongs to a man who exercises authority, possibly unjustly and oppressively. Colette’s subtle use of the hand is beyond anatomical: it is the terminal part of the human arm used for holding and grasping, an instrument used for the good of humanity but also used to act out harshly and cruelly. The same theme of domination by a man appears in Hawthorne’s piece. Aylmer’s decision to remove Georgina’s birthmark becomes a solid verdict, one that Georgina cannot deny if she is ever to fully have her husband’s love without his shudders of revulsion. His every reaction triggers her own disgust with her marred face and the need to become perfect for him leads her to make the final decision of drinking the concoction which he mixed to remove her mark from within. Yet this removal of nature’s flaw takes away her humanity and the critical reason was her husband’s forceful-no matter how unintentional-method.
The linking factor between Colette’s piece and Hawthorne’s piece was a hand that, though initially harmless, became the decisive factor in ultimately failed marriages.