The Many Forms of Beauty
In the literary works of William Wordsworth, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the narrators and characters uniquely observe beauty or the lack of beauty in the world surrounding them. Wordsworth’s poem praises the elegance of a field of daffodils while Hawthorne and Gilman’s short stories focus on their wives’ imperfections of a birthmark and mental disorder. The narrators and characters of these three works each demonstrate their differing perceptions of true beauty.
In Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” the speaker finds beauty in the simplicity of nature. He first describes a scene in which he observes a group of daffodils near a lake that are “fluttering and dancing in the breeze” (6). The speaker says that the daffodils are so beautiful they even “out-did the sparkling waves in glee” (14). While observing the scene, the speaker is captivated by the daffodils but does not yet realize nature’s true gift. It is not until later when the speaker is alone on his couch thinking about the flowers and says, “and then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils” (23-24). This shows that the beauty of the natural scene left such a lasting impression on his memory that, whenever he thinks back to it, his heart fills with pleasure and bliss.
In Hawthorne’s short story “The Birthmark,” Aylmer perceives beauty as something merely physical and views his wife Georgiana as less beautiful because of a birthmark on her cheek. He claims that the birthmark is “the visible mark of earthly imperfection” and wants to remove it from her face in an attempt to make her perfect (467). Aylmer obsesses over the birthmark because he thinks it is taking away from her “nearly perfect” face. He only concentrates on her physical appearance and never appreciates the beauty of her patient and loving personality. Aylmer let “this one defect grow more and more intolerable,” until he decided to feed her a potion in an attempt to remove the mark. Because he could not see beauty past Georgiana’s birthmark, Aylmer ended up killing the one person that loved him the most.
The husband in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” sees his wife’s beauty in more of a psychological sense. John is unable to recognize the beauty of his wife’s imaginative mind because she is suffering from “temporary nervous depression” and views this as an imperfection that must be treated. It seems as if John is almost embarrassed of his wife’s depression because he “assures relatives and friends that there is nothing the matter” with her (388). John also tries to stop her creativity by keeping her from writing and drawing and only allowing her to eat and sleep. John is unable to look beyond his wife’s psychological condition and praise the beautifully expressive mind she has been gifted with.
Two years ago during my time as a teacher’s assistant, I found beauty in an unexpected place. It was not found in nature or in my significant other as these works have described, but rather in a group of brilliant second grade children. Growing up an only child I never had much experience with children. But after spending time with this class, I recognized such beauty in their young and curious minds. I was shocked by the complex questions they asked their teacher, their witty senses of humor, and creativity. After this experience I have a much greater appreciation for the potential and beauty of the young mind and how impressionable it really is.