Rappuccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne


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In “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” a tale written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1844, many conflicts, both thematically and characteristically, take place and help to illustrate Hawthorne’s gothic and epic themes. Conflicts between modern science and morality, good and evil, and inherent human faulty are all made evident. Four main characters are presented as vessels for Hawthorne’s grand scheme: Giacomo Rappaccini, Professor Baglioni, Giovanni Guasconti, and Beatrice.

Doctor Giacomo Rappaccini is a brilliant scientist, focusing mostly in the botanical sciences. Upon his first introduction into the story, no evidence of an antagonistic role is made palpable. However, this is all but far from the case. Rappaccini has made what appears to be “the garden of Eden.” A botanical garden at his estate, it houses dozens of glorious flower breeds and varieties. He spends most all of his time either in the garden or doing other scientific experiments. As the deception of appearances is made clearer, we start to realize the true nature and role of this character in the story. As Hawthorne states regarding Rappaccini in his garden:

“. . .in spite of the deep intelligence on his part, there was no approach to intimacy between himself and these vegetable existences. On the contrary, he avoided their actual touch, or the direct inhaling of their odors, with a caution that impressed Giovanni most disagreeably; for the man's demeanor was that of one walking among malignant influences, such as savage beasts, or deadly snakes, or evil spirits, which, should he allow them one moment of license, would wreak upon him some terrible fatality. It was strangely frightful to the young man's imagination, to see this air of insecurity in a person cultivating a garden, that most simple and innocent of human toils, and which had been alike the joy and labor of the unfallen parents of the race. Was this garden, then, the Eden of the present world?--and this man, with such a perception of harm in what his own hands caused to grow, was he the Adam?” (p. 649-650)

Upon this statement, the conflict of his attempt at playing the role of God and of science versus nature is presented. Rappaccini is a man completely diluted by his own intellect.

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With this, his love and passion for science overpowers that for his daughter, or any other living thing. Rappaccini goes so far as to intertwine the fate of his garden with that of his daughter. He raises his daughter, Beatrice, among the poisons of the garden so that she, quite literally, becomes a part of the garden and the garden becomes a part of her. The thought of robbing his daughter of any sense of a normal existence is far from being remotely close to being acknowledged. Instead, Rappaccini thrives in his naivety of the human condition and is oblivious to any people, even his own kin, which might be hurt through the scientific process.

Another character presented in the story is one of Rappaccini’s colleagues, Professor Pietro Baglioni. Seen at first as someone clearly represented as a voice of reason, Baglioni seems to simply have the best intentions for both himself and his fellow man. However, it is soon made apparent that Baglioni is far from saintly and perfect. Whereas Rappaccini is quickly acknowledged as a villainous presence in the story, Baglioni’s agenda seems unclear, even in the end. Although never depicted as an obvious antagonist, Baglioni represents a conflict of something more human than that of the conflict that faces Rappaccini: a man and his pride. Albeit less blatant than the disagreement visible in his colleague, Baglioni’s conflict is that of a person against himself. Having been rivals in their college days, Baglioni seems to have a constant precautionary and “on-guard” attitude towards Rappaccini. While this defensive approach might seem like a self-preservation tactic, it seems as though Baglioni depicts both good and evil, standing on the fence in a story so torn between the two. Although his intentions seem to be for the best in his giving of the elixir to cure Beatrice and alleviate young Giovanni of his affliction, his hasty ways and attempt at “out-doing” his scientific contender get the better of both him and Beatrice, ending in the death of Rappaccini’s greatest experiment to date: his daughter, Beatrice. On top of the rivalry between Baglioni and Rappaccini, evidence that the elixir may have been given as a means of vengeance is obvious as well. It seems he is willing to risk the life of Beatrice to defeat his opponent. As stated in the text:

"We will thwart Rappaccini yet!" thought he, chuckling to himself, as he descended the stairs. "But, let us confess the truth of him, he is a wonderful man!--a wonderful man indeed! A vile empiric, however, in his practice, and therefore not to be tolerated by those who respect the good old rules of the medical profession!" (p.662)

More so, as the final line of the story, finalizing his victory, Baglioni, quite simply says, “Rappaccini! Rappaccini! And is this the upshot of your experiment?”

Giovanni Guasconti, a young man staying at Rappaccini’s estate to attend medical school, seems to represent the morality in the story. Quickly and nearly instantly drawn into the allure of Beatrice and the garden, Giovanni becomes completely engrossed in Beatrice without regard to any reason or common sense. Against the advice of Baglioni, his father’s friend, he peruses his attempt at approaching Beatrice and the deadly garden. In a “love at first sight” moment analogous to that of Romeo and Juliet, Giovanni is instantly struck by Beatrice’s youth and beauty, as much deceiving as the garden itself. Even after witnessing himself the dangers of the both of them, he continues in his pursuit for Beatrice. Stated on p. 660, “Oh, how stubbornly does love--or even that cunning semblance of love which flourishes in the imagination, but strikes no depth of root into the heart--how stubbornly does it hold its faith, until the moment come, when it is doomed to vanish into thin mist! Giovanni wrapt a handkerchief about his hand, and wondered what evil thing had stung him, and soon forgot his pain in a reverie of Beatrice.” Continuing on in this path of denial and disenchantment, Giovanni continues to become more and more enraptured in Beatrice’s poison and in his own obsession with the love he feels for her. Nevertheless, in a true testament of his humanity, Giovanni finally breaks once the reality of his doom and fear for his life is set, as all living things seem to finally revert back to in the end. As acknowledged on p. 664-665, “Giovanni's rage broke forth from his sullen gloom like a lightning-flash out of a dark cloud. ‘Accursed one!’ cried he, with venomous scorn and anger. ‘And finding thy solitude wearisome, thou hast severed me, likewise, from all the warmth of life, and enticed me into thy region of unspeakable horror!’” Giovanni, a character weakened not by his vengeance, pride, or need for power, Giovanni’s fatal flaw seems to be that of nothing but poor judgment and having become betwixt between that and his humanity, which is imperfect and flawed in it’s very existence.

Finally, the passive antagonist, Beatrice, ties all of the aforementioned characters, their flaws, downfalls, and eventual conquering thereof together. Daughter of Doctor Giacomo Rappaccini, Beatrice was raised amongst the poisons of the garden, isolated from society and anything outside the garden her whole life, until young Giovanni appears. Personified as a picture of innocence and beauty, she is anything but, much like the deception that the garden itself holds. A victim of her father’s experiment, Beatrice, although literally poisonous in her entire being, is representative of a true idealism gone bad, much like that of the story of Adam and Eve and the snake that lead their garden to it’s demise. Without intentionally doing so, Beatrice embodies all of the conflicts seen in the story: good and evil, life and death, innocence and corruption, and morality and humanity. Also indicative of a deeper, more existential underlying theme, Beatrice’s last words, read on p. 666, “Thy words of hatred are like lead within my heart—but they, too, will fall away as I ascend. Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?” As Beatrice falls to her death, one is forced to stop and wonder how the demons and angels of not just this story, but of our own lives, are created, reinforced, and destroyed.


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