Literature · Short Stories

Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Short Story Analysis)

girl in garden

Giovanni is drawn to the garden beneath his window. It’s beautiful to an unnatural extent and is a product of Dr. Rappaccini, a great scientist who has a tendency to take his experiments too far. Even on his own daughter.

In this story, Hawthorne builds up the garden a lot. It’s a product of a scientific mind but it could represent a small peace of nature that has been corrupted by man. The story shows how humans can tamper with nature and turn it into something artificial. On the garden’s artificiality: “Several, also, would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialness… that the production was no longer of God’s making, but the monstrous offspring of a man’s depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty.”

Dr. Rappaccini is a perfect example for this idea of man as corrupter. He’s the scientist that goes too far, someone who doesn’t have any regard for who or what he harms with his work: “…he cares infinitely more for science than for mankind. His patients are interesting to him only as subjects for some new experiment.”

So, how does Rappaccini’s daughter come into play? Well, she becomes apart of his experiments which shows just how far he will go. Someone who’s willing to use their own child surely has no limits. His daughter, Beatrice, is essentially poisonous like the plants in her father’s garden. This is why she probably feels such an intimate connection with said plants: “Approaching the shrub, she threw open her arms, as with a passionate ardor and drew its branches into an intimate embrace; so intimate, that her features were hidden in its leafy bosom, and her glistening ringlets all intermingled with the flowers.”

She has become an extension of the garden rather than an individual human. This further characterizes her as nothing more than her father’s experiment.

But Beatrice is important for another reason because she’s the one that draws Giovanni into the garden. She’s like an unknowing seductress that leads him astray – a common way that female characters are portrayed. But here, this portrayal is effective.

Beatrice is her father’s tool in many ways. She’s a force that brings him in new experiments to become apart of his garden. And Giovanni does for awhile, becoming poisonous like Beatrice, “…He sent forth a breath among them, and smiled bitterly at Beatrice, as at lease a score of insects fell dead upon the ground.” Here is how Beatrice tries to console Giovanni: “For Giovanni – believe it – though my body be nourished with poison, my spirit is God’s creature, and craves love as its daily food.”

Not surprisingly, Dr. Rappaccini believes he is doing good and therefore feels no remorse – “ ‘What mean you, foolish girl? Dost thou deem it misery to be endowed with marvellous gifts, aganist which no power nor strength could avail an enemy.’ ” This is, perhaps, the mindset of many who take their experimentation too far. Beatrice dies at the end and is described as such: “To Beatrice – so radically had her earthly part been wrought upon by Rappaccini’s skill – as poison had been life, so the powerful antidote was death.”

Plenty of people are afraid of growing scientific achievement (especially in Hawthorne’s time) and this story, although exaggerated, shows that their fears aren’t entirely unreasonable.

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