Sophocles once said that The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves. That is to say that the source of most human turmoil lies within the beholder. This concept is true and is clearly proven in Nathaniel Hawthornes short stories The Birthmark and Rappaccinis Daughter. Hawthornes works both support Sophocles quotation by using irony and characterization to show that men are the source of their own turmoil. Hawthorne uses irony to show that The Birthmark supports the idea that the source of the greatest griefs of men are founded in ourselves by using irony. The ironic situation that arises is that Aylmer has a perfect wife in all respects except that she has a very small, hardly noticeable, birthmark on her cheek.
When Aylmer attempts to remove this tiny flaw using an antidote that he concocted he ends up killing her because the birthmark is representative all of the emotion and passion that Georgiana, his wife, holds. Therefor by taking away the birthmark, her emotion and passion, he is extracting life itself from his wife. Ironically, instead of improving on something already so perfect he ended it. As in The Birthmark, Hawthornes other work, Rappaccinis Daughter also supports the idea that men are the very creators of their own griefs by utilizing Rappaccini and Beatrice similarly to his use of Georgiana and Aylmer. This time, however, Beatrice is infected with a disease that, to her is harmless, but if contracted to anyone else could be fatal. This was intentionally given to her by her father, Rappaccini, in order to prevent her from ever becoming married.
Similarly, an antidote is concocted by another scientist and given to Beatrice. In this case, however, the success of the antidote proves to be the downfall of Beatrice. When the potion works and she is able to feel her love for Giovanni and his love for her she is overwhelmed by emotions that she was never experience before, thus killing her. The double-irony lying in that her fathers over protection of her led to her inability to survive such emotions and that it was because the potion worked that she died. In Rappaccinis Daughter Hawthorne characterizes Rappaccini as being selfish and greedy. Rappaccini knows that the day will come when someone will want to love Beatrice but because of the disease that she is infected with will not be able to.
Had Rappaccini been willing to share his daughter with a man, Giovanni, then Beatrice never would have died as a result of the avalanche of emotions that overtook her when the antidote relieved her of the disease. It was through the selfishness of her father, however, that her demise was met, by way of her death in the garden during the final scene. Hawthorne uses both irony and characterization to demonstrate that men are the very cause of their own griefs. The Birthmark and Rappaccinis Daughter written by Hawthorne support this ideal presented by Sophocles in Oedipus Rex by using characterization, symbolism, and irony. The use of characterization extenuates the ironic circumstances presented by Hawthorne in each story, both combining to demonstrate that one cannot survive on an absence of passion and emotion nor can one live in complete abundance of both.