What are the attitudes of the young medical school student in Hawthorne’s tale, “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” toward women; of the author toward women; of other characters in the story toward women? Are women involved in basic plot development? This essay intends to answer these and other questions about women in the short story.
Beatrice, Dr. Rappaccini’s daughter, is the prime motivating force in the story. Giovanni’s love for the beautiful daughter, mixed perhaps with pride, blinds him to various indications of her poisonous nature, to the evil nature of her father and to the intent of her father to involve the protagonist as a subject in his sinister experiment.
The tale takes place in Padua, Italy, where a Naples student named Giovanni Guascanti has relocated in order to attend the medical school there. His modest room is in an old mansion watched over by the landlady, Dame Lisabetta, a two-dimensional female character given to religious expletives like, ``Holy Virgin, signor!'' She, as a very normal woman, is impressed by the student’s handsomeness and thus seeks to impress him:
``Holy Virgin, signor!'' cried old Dame Lisabetta, who, won by the youth's remarkable beauty of person, was kindly endeavoring to give the chamber a habitable air, ``what a sigh was that to come out of a young man's heart! Do you find this old mansion gloomy? For the love of Heaven, then, put your head out of the window, and you will see as bright sunshine as you have left in Naples.''
She answers Giovanni’s curiosity about a garden next-door: ``No; that garden is cultivated by the own hands of Signor Giacomo Rappaccini, the famous doctor. . . .” She then proceed...
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Kazin, Alfred. Introduction. Selected Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Fawcett Premier, 1966.
McPherson, Hugo. “Hawthorne’s Use of Mythology.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Stewart, Randall. “Hawthorne’s Female Characters.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Sullivan, Wilson. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” In New England Men of Letters. New York: Macmillan Co., 1972.
Swisher, Clarice. “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Williams, Stanley T. “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
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