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April 2014

The Forehead Scar as a Literary Device

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, Virginia
  • 2Washington Hospital Center, Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, DC
  • 3Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC
JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(4):379. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.10583

Dermatologists and patients often view scars as imperfections. In literature, however, scars can help define a nuanced character, often revealing more than other aspects of a character’s appearance. Does the scar connote bravery, some triumph in battle? Or, could it mean something more sinister, a memento of treachery perhaps?

Forehead scars, in particular, are a frequently used literary device. The earliest example of forehead scars may be the biblical tale of Cain and Abel. God banished Cain for murdering his brother, Abel, but God “set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. And Cain went out … and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden” (Genesis 4:15, King James Version). The Bible does not describe the mark, but some Talmudic interpretations suggest it was a forehead scar shaped like sacred Hebrew letters.

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