At one point or another almost every person has experienced obsession. Obsessions come in all shapes and sizes and in varying degrees. In The Rocking Horse Winner, by David Lawerence, and The Birthmark, by Nathaniel Hawthorne readers witness the bizarre, and often shallow, obsessions people can have. These obsessions become great sources of pain for the characters and lead to devastating consequences, including death.
By analyzing the cause and effect relationship of Paul’s obsession, luck and money, and Aylmer’s obsession, perfection and control, we can better understand how these characters developed these obsessions and why they could not overcome them. As a young boy Paul was highly aware that his parents never seemed to have enough money to satisfy their expensive tastes. Both parents refused to live by their means “so the house was haunted by the unspoken phrase: there must be more money! There must be more money” (399)! Paul and his sisters could always hear it although nobody dared speak it.
Paul’s obsession with luck and money develops when he inquires to his mother as to why they do not have a car. His mother says it is because they are the poor members of the family and they have no luck. She then explains to Paul that luck is not money; luck is what causes you to have money. Paul confidently boasts, “I’m a lucky person” (400). You can feel the intensity of his desire “seeking inwardly for luck… He wanted luck, he wanted it, he wanted it” (401). He then decides his rocking horse is going to be his source of luck.
Paul begins to ride the horse furiously and seems to be entranced while rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. He tells it to take him where the luck is. His mother and sisters find his actions disturbing. Talking to the family gardener, Bassett, Paul discovers a way to use his luck, betting on horse races. Apparently whenever Paul was sure he won and when he was not, he lost. Every time Paul won he would become at ease for a moment then would immediately return to his usual state of restlessness and intense desire.
He would ride the horse frantically day after day his desire to win and make more money increasing with each rock. After Paul had not been sure for a while he delved further into madness and laid all his hopes in one derby. Tense and frail Paul took his final ride, “he ceased riding urging his wooden horse. Then he fell with a crash to the ground” (409). Greed and lack of love were the central causes of Paul’s demise. His mother was extremely greedy and had never loved her children. Paul just wanted his mother to be happy, “I started it for mother.
She said she had no luck, because father is unlucky, so I thought if I was lucky, it might stop the whispering” (405). The whispering Paul is referring to is the inescapable howl constantly coming from the house, “there must be more money” (398). Paul’s desire to make his mother happy and gain her affection came at the cost of his young life. Even in the end his dying words were “Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky” (409). Aylmer, in The Birthmark, also suffers from an obsession. Aylmer’s obsession is with control and perfection.
The words perfect and imperfection are prevalent throughout the story. Aylmer is a philosopher and a respected scientist. He marries a beautiful woman perfect in every way except one. Georgiana has a birthmark on her cheek. At first Aylmer thought he could think of the imperfection simply as a beauty mark. He discovered he could not. Soon the imperfection becomes his obsession and, “it became the central point of all… Georgiana soon learned to shudder at his gaze” (631). Aylmer ponders a way to remove the imperfection and becomes intent on doing so.
Because Georgiana loves Aylmer she is willing to do whatever it takes to remove the mark, at any cost. Aylmer is so convinced he has the perfect cure and can somehow “correct(ed) what nature left imperfect in her fairest work” (632). After reading Aylmer’s research volume Georgiana finally realizes the extent of his desire for higher knowledge and control, Much as he had accomplished, she could not help but observe That his most splendid successes were almost invariably Failures, if compared with the ideal at which he aimed.
His Brightest diamonds were the merest pebbles, and felt to be so by Himself, in comparison with the inestimable gems which lay Hidden beyond his reach (637). Realizing this Georgiana takes the enchanting potion Aylmer created knowing he cannot accept anything less than perfection. When the mark finally disappears Aylmer exclaims, “My peerless bride it is successful! You are perfect” (640)! Now he and Georgiana can be happy. Not a moment later his beauty says the haunting words, “Do not repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer.
Aylmer, dearest Aylmer, I am dying” (640). Aylmer paid the ultimate price for his obsession. Not only did he lose his wife but the last times he spent with her he was disgusted and made her feel terrible. An obsession with anything is unhealthy. Paul and Aylmer did not recognize the severity of their obsessions in time to prevent the serious consequences they experienced. Both characters were obsessed with superficial things that could not last. Something valuable is gained when the reader connects with those who suffered and realizes nothing is more valuable than a human life.