Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10077/7086
Title: "It is Terrible to Possess Such Power!" : The Critique of Phrenology, Class, and Gender in Hawthorne's 'The Birth-mark'
Authors: Hartnett, Stephen
Issue Date: 1998
Publisher: EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Source: Stephen Hartnett, ""It is Terrible to Possess Such Power!" : The Critique of Phrenology, Class, and Gender in Hawthorne's 'The Birth-mark'", in: Prospero. Rivista di Letterature Straniere, Comparatistica e Studi Culturali, V (1998), pp. 5-26
Series/Report no.: Prospero. Rivista di Letterature Straniere, Comparatistica e Studi Culturali
V (1998)
Abstract: 
First popularised in 1828, phrenology became associated with the measurement of human faculties: a phrenologist would perform ‘readings’ of a subject’s character by appraising certain characteristics of his or her head.
Hawthorne’s 1843 story "The Birth-mark" questions the use of this controversial ‘deep science’ for self-serving political ends. The story’s main character uses science to move upwards in the social scale: he ‘cleanses’ himself of the marks of physical labour, hires an assistant and marries. Both the assistant and the wife are depicted as ‘inferiors’: he is a stereotypical brutish immigrant worker, who does not understand science; she feels powerless in front of science, and accepts to undergo a surgery to remove a birth-mark she has on the face that, in his eyes, prevents her from being perfect. She will die shortly after, thanking him for his attentions towards her.
This short story is a critique of the class gender tensions that lurk beneath the alienated desire, triggering the phrenology fad within mid-century America.
Type: Article
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10077/7086
ISSN: 1123-2684
Appears in Collections:1998 / 5 Prospero. Rivista di culture anglo-germaniche

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