Love in the Male Dominated Society of the 1800's in Hawthorne's Rappaccini's Daughter


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Love in the Male Dominated Society of the 1800's in Hawthorne's Rappaccini's Daughter


"Rappaccini's Daughter" is a strange tale, kind of an early pseudo-scientific short story, that focuses on the life of Beatrice and her bizarre nature. The result of a twisted experiment, she must find happiness within the walls of a garden her father has created for her. Although her life depends on a fatal poison, she defines her soul as "God's creation, and craves love as its daily food" (2131). This paradox creates a powerful story as the mortal Giovanni falls in love with the deadly Beatrice. Insane love and harsh words end the story with the climactic suicide of a heartbroken girl.

I saw this situation as being analogous to women's rights at the time. "Rappaccini's Daughter" was published in 1844, women couldn't vote in the USA until around 1920. This story was written in a time when women were generally victimized by the society they lived in. Rappaccini purposely introduces his only daughter to a poison filled, solitary life in the name of love. As he "spends his life in achieving a picture" (2131) Rappaccini forgets about the "miserable doom" (2132) he has inflicted upon his beloved daughter. This parallels the inflicted miseries women of the nineteenth century endured such as arranged marriages as well as many other paternalistic conditions placed in the name of love or safety.

"Rappaccini's Daughter" was written two years after Hawthorne's marriage and during the same year of his first daughter's birth. The strange idea's brought forth in "Rappaccini's Daughter" are more easily seen when his position is put into perspective. As a father he knew that his daughter would be subject to the very restrictions he so skillfully illustrates in "Rappaccini's" as well as in "The Scarlet Letter". Could these stories be the imaginative musings of a frustrated father? Perhaps they were due to his own feelings after becoming a new groom. In either case both stories have a dominating theme of the oppression of women's sexuality, Beatrice's poison being that of society. Harsh consequences befall Rappaccini when he tries to control things he truly cannot, such as love and life. Would the same happen to Hawthorne is sought to exert as much control?

The character of Rappaccini exemplifies perfectly the views held towards women in the

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123helpme.com/search.asp?text=1800's">1800's. His accomplishments in science are the poisons of society that were forced upon its members in order to remain respected and accepted. Beatrice must accept her poison or she'll die, she has no choice as did real women of the times. Her father is the provider, the supplier, and the regulator of life just as white male landowners dominated the real society. The mad scientist gives her life yet restricts it to a certain set area with particular tasks (collecting the poisonous flowers he cannot) in order to maintain authority over his creation. Women were certainly seen as the lesser sex that needed guidance and limits, as did Beatrice, and men were always around to give these.

Hawthorne seems to be defending women such as Beatrice and Hester (from The Scarlet Letter) by showing the reader that they are more complex than a simple bad character. Beatrice is an "poor heart-broken child" (2130) who cannot accept that Giovanni isn't the nice guy he was trying to be. His "weak and selfish and unworthy spirit" (2131) forces her to consider the "light of immortality" (2131) in order to find a means of escape from the entrapment brought about by a so called love, which is representative of the rules place by society for women's collective good.'

Beatrice is not a vicious girl who is intent on killing things and spreading the poison around, but is rather a sensitive and devoted girl who only wanted to be in love. After her betrayal by she realizes her true nature and is so horrified by her pseudo life' that she kills herself in front of the two men who supposedly loved her the most in order to make them watch her die. She knows Baglioni's antidote will kill her, and as she say "with peculiar emphasis: I will drink but do thou await the result," (2132) her heart knows that she must "pass heavily across the borders of Time and there be well," (2131). Therefore, by creating sympathetic characters, Hawthorne seeks to illustrate the ways in which society forced its paternalistic rules on women and how they really had little choice in the matter. Beatrice's climactic death symbolizes a kind of death of the soul, death of beauty, and death of all things pure'.

"Rappaccini's Daughter" is a story about the true beauty in life, as illustrated by the devoted Beatrice, and the ways in which it can be poisoned. Giovanni's infatuation, Rappaccini's paternalistic restrictions, and Baglioni's ambition all bar the way of Beatrice's happiness. Only after the lifting of these restrictions would happiness ever be within her reach, and obviously, it never is. Hawthorne knew that his wife and daughters would be subject to the same problems and I feel that his frustrations are shown throughout the story.


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