In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale, “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” the dominanat theme is the evil within mankind. This essay intends to explore, exemplify and develop this topic.
Hyatt Waggoner in “Nathaniel Hawthorne” states:
Alienation is perhaps the theme he handles with greatest power. “Insulation,” he sometimes called it – which suggests not only isolation but imperviousness. It is the opposite of that “osmosis of being” that Warren has written of, that ability to respond and relate to others and the world. . . . it puts one outside the ‘magic circle’ or the ‘magnetic chain’ of humanity, where there is neither love nor reality (54).
Waggoner’s theme of alienation does play a part in “Rappaccini’s Daughter” in reference to the doctor and Beatrice, and Giovanni after he has been rendered poisonous by prolonged contact with Beatrice. But alienation is not, in the opinion of this reader, the dominant theme in the tale. The overriding theme would be the evil residing within human beings, regardless of how attractive they appear outwardly. “Everything he has to say is related, finally, to ‘that inward sphere’” (McPherson 68-69).
Giovanni’s love for the beautiful daughter 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 Giovanni as a subject in his sinister experiment. At the climax his blindness is removed and he sees, with Beatrice’s help, the truth of the situation; he sees the evil within man.
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 modes...
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...es Press, 1968.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” ElectronicText Center. University of Virginia Library. http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/browse-mixed-new?id="HawRapp"&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public
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.
Waggoner, Hyatt. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” In Six American Novelists of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Richard Foster. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1968.
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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