One of Nathaniel Hawthornes most famous works is the short story, “Rappaccinis Daughter”. It was written in 1844 and published in book form in the Mossess from and Old Manse in 1846 (Tuerk). Many have commented that this short story is the one most complex he has written, especially being known as a poet during that time. This short story is similar to his other works where the author clearly refers to Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Garden of Eden (Turek). Hawthorne makes use of science and spirituality as a subject in this story and uses many symbolisms to make his point to readers. A central theme is science and a couple who go beyond typical measures to pursue love. The brilliance of this story is that Hawthorne has a mysterious ending that leaves its readers to make their own interpretation of the events. The fiction of Hawthorne is of an individual and rare distinction (Eliot, 5).
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Hawthorne, who has been described as a loner, may have channeled his own personal problems of isolation into the creation of his works. Such as in Rappaccini’s Daughter, the author likes to use evil as a subject matter and contrast this with humanism that is having a passion for life with the use of intellectual freedom. In this short story, Hawthorne uses symbols to represent the material versus the fantasy world. The use of imagination is common in the story, especially with the thought of limitless possibilities science could obtain. It has been said that Rappaccini’s Daughter, Beatrice’s, dilemma may actually be a reference to the sheltered
years the author’s wife, Sophia, endured at the hands of her mother when she lived a sheltered childhood as a young girl (Wright). But, the short story had a tragic ending compared to Hawthorne’s real life. Many of the symbols and symbolic indications are found in the setting of the story such as being set in Padua, with no specific time period. Most of the scenes take place in a garden which the author labeled as a place of adultery. The garden itself is a contradiction, being filled on one hand with lush and beautiful plants, but also filled with poisonous flowers. The garden also has a broken fountain found in the center of the green vegetation (Swann 76).
The story is written in Giovanni’s perspective where he falls in love with Rappaccini’s daughter, Beatrice, who is trapped in the garden because she developed poisonous venom in her body. Giovanni first sees Beatrice through the garden’s windows where she feels a sense of attraction for the young man. Beatrice is described as a God fearing person and would most likely be heart broken by loneliness being forced by her father to stay in the garden alone. Giovanni also falls in love with Beatrice, but eventually finds out her delicate, but awkward condition. The dark and twisted plans of Rappaccini are revealed as he purposely made his daughter poisonous to others in order for her to be protected from the world’s evil nature. The fact she is a prisoner in the garden indicates how she was led to believe that darkness does exist in the outside world. Rappaccini also makes Giovanni poisonous in order for his daughter to have a companion in her garden world. The scientist took extreme measures for his daughter by building her a fake world. Also, the plants are altered, which was not the original intention of God. Was he trying to destroy scientific convention, or was he trying to see how far he could push himself and the envelope of acceptable scientific practice? (Paperstarter.com).
Rappaccini himself can be quickly be categorized as the antagonist who is evil in the
story. His ways are immoral since he places science above humanity. He also uses his patients as a means for an experiment to build his own agenda. Rappaccini clearly fits the description of a mad scientist who has isolated himself from the outside world. However, he is also a tragic hero whose intentions started off as being good. However, as they say, the end does not justify the means, which can clearly be seen in Rappaccini’s case where he began to develop a god complex, which gave him a sense of power of manipulation and control. The character evolved from being a normal loving father into a terrible and evil scientist using all means to protect his daughter. Rappaccini becomes misguided and uses his own daughter as a sense of pride. He forgets his role as a father as Hawthorne shows how misguided idealism can corrupt a man. It is important to note that as a father, Rappaccini should not have made his daughter poisonous if he loved her at all. It also symbolizes that perhaps the scientist’s view on original sin and sexuality seeing his daughter as a product of a forbidden act instead of love. Rappaccini’s exploitation led him to become jealous and spiteful with a hidden passion for vengeance. It is in this way that the author is able to show how Rappaccini and the other men, are truly poison in the story and not his beautiful daughter. She is exploited by Giovanni for love and curiosity, Baglioni for revenge on her father, and by her father for scientific purposes (Bookstove.com).
Rappaccini’s Daughter is in fact a heartbreaking story where none of the characters win in the end. Another theme of the story is betrayal, which is seen in the characters of Giovanni and Beatrice. As they fall in love, Giovanni creates a plan to save her, but Beatrice fails to mention her poisonous body. Giovanni, who was poisoned in the process took this as an act of betrayal. The plot of Rappaccini’s Daughter could be taken as excessive, but this is only a reflection of the author’s real character being a transcendentalist. This was a new way of thinking in the 18th
century taking on modern day ideas such as women’s rights. It uses spirituality to emphasizes on how human achievement can further progress with the right manner of thinking, without the help of the church doctrine (Urk). Transcendentalism aims to answer how man can balance his beliefs and intelligence and can be seen in how Giovanni tried to come to grips with Beatrice’s condition. He was advised by other people not to save Beatrice, but in his heart, he knew this was the right thing to do. The story highlights common situations men face when making life changing decisions. Giovanni was advised by older men to stay away from Beatrice since she is a temptress, another label degrading women by implying their evilness. However, Lisabetta, an older woman, encourages Giovanni and even helps him enter the garden. In this respect, Hawthorne makes a comparison of Beatrice’s garden to the Garden of Eden where she, like Eve, is the temptress that led to Adam’s fall from God’s grace. This is the classic definition of Genesis’ story blaming the woman for man’s downfall, which in this story, is Giovanni’s failure as he struggles with temptation. Deeper evaluation of Giovanni’s feelings is not simply just doing what is right, but also emphasizes his fear of loosing his love. The temptation to save her and satisfy his own desires was just too hard for him to ignore (Helium.com).
The ideas of transcendentalism also questioned the authority of the church and their ideas. This is seen in the character of Dr. Baglioni, who is also a priest in Rappaccini’s Daughter. More importantly, he is Rappaccini’s rival and he gives salvation advice for Giovanni’s sins of sexual desires, but he obviously had an underlying agenda. The corrupt priest gives the wrong advice to an otherwise romantic ending changing the plot into a tragic end. This is a reflection of the times where many questioned the motives of the church, where Hawthorne presents how priests also abuse their power, especially hiding evil motives under priestly robes. Rappaccini’s Daughter
also aims to show how theology and science have begun to contradict each other in their use and form but also highlighting their commonality. The similarity lies the way people use these institutions to pursue progress, human development, and personal ambition. It is evidence of how man developed a god complex attitude and uses this to control and manipulate society. Both also show that by trying to change God’s plan, unexpected and unpredictable consequences occur. Transcendentalism also supported women’s rights and at that time in the 18th century, many women’s basic civil liberties were denied. Rappaccini’s Daughter is able to show how women are also capable of intelligence seen in the character of Beatrice. Baglioni, in fact, was bothered by rumors of Beatrice’s skill to be equal to that of her father which shows how society and the church viewed the roles of women during that period. Baglioni becomes jealous of Beatrice being able to care for the garden and her father’s experiments. He even comes to believe that Rappaccini intends for his daughter, Beatrice, to replace him (Helium.com).
A theme of Rappaccini’s Daughter also centers on the concept of free will and predetermination. It begs to question if God, the Creator of all things, allowed tragedy to fall upon the characters of the story. God was part of the story, being Beatrice’s main motivation. However, the unfolding of events questions the free will of man in the character of Giovanni. The story asks how and even why God allowed Giovanni to be tempted by Beatrice. It asks whether everything in life is actually predetermined and man is simply a product of fate. Free will does not exist at all nor does the meaning of choice. It is in this way, Hawthorne is able to relate the dilemmas of Giovanni to Adam’s predicament in the Garden of Eden. Giovanni becomes so consumed with lust and love that he ignores common sense. Afterwards, he seeks and takes the advice of Baglioni without debating the priest’s motivations. He is also quick to
scorn Beatrice after her betrayal. Hawthorne is able to show by the end of the tragic tale how the ideas of transcendentalism fails as the characters are not able to use their intelligence in getting their romance through to a happy ending (Helium.com).
Hawthorne’s characters are stereotypical but they each serve to represent a hidden symbolic meaning and each represents a moral importance bringing to light different aspects of humanity. Many would say that the story is Gothic and advanced for the time it was written, and certainly, the plot was filled with uncertain meaning that is common in modern day science fiction novels. The element of fantasy is also not to be missed as the characters show an idealistic and idiotic protagonist, while the woman, Beatrice, is represented as being wise with angel like characteristics. The story also has many characteristics of temptation and shows how this can lead to sin and immortality. The plot evolves with the concept of misplaced faith in other people: from Beatrice’s loyalty to her father, to Giovanni easily surrendering to his desire for Beatrice (Buford and Inge, 46).
The beauty of the story is it’s highlight of human problems set in a science fiction manner and show the different severities of sin. Sin, in the end, corrupts man and his motives, making everyone in the story loose in the tragedy of Rappaccini’s Daughter. The story brings about different interpretations from readers since it’s publishing in the 18th century. The differences in the characters asks its readers to look more deeply, rather than taking the simple short story at face value. It is interesting to notice that Giovanni has been widely cast as the Puritan. Beatrice, on the other hand, was the flawless woman – both good and evil at the same time. Rappaccini acts like he is both God and the Devil, especially with his scientific ventures and role as being the father. Baglioni has been interpreted to the a deliverer of hidden messages, much like the
parables Christ told his disciples when giving advice (Normand, 105).
Rappaccini’s Daughter, although being a short story, has been compared to many literary greats such as The House of Seven Gables, Fanshawe, The Devil in Manuscript, The Intelligence Office, and The Scarlet Letter. It has even been compared to Purgatorio, especially with the religious contexts. It has also been compared to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher and Holmes’ Elsie Venner. The comparisons indicate Rappaccini’s Daughter’s literary triumph as it has made a mark in literary history. The character Beatrice is also seen in many modern day literary works such as The Awakening and A Streetcar Named Desire (Stallman).
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A Christian analysis of Rappaccini’s Daughter emphasizes on the morality aspect where doubleness exists in all of the characters. The garden where Beatrice lives is a representation of how evil can hide in an thing of beauty. This shows how temptation in life is often presented to man. Of course, if the temptation does not seem good or stir up one’s desire, then it would not be classified as temptation. Beatrice is viewed as having the potential to achieve spiritual perfection if she chooses to remain in the garden and not disobey her father’s wishes. Her fall from grace shows the doubleness of human nature where man can give in to their own desires. Some people classify this as free will, while others view it as man breaking their covenant with God since the story is very much like the story of Adam and Eve. Covenants represents a person’s bond and, in this case, a relationship and bond with God. Like the Genesis story, the garden is not filled with all good such as the serpent who tempted Eve. Rappaccini’s Daughter also has its cast of evil characters. The story emphasizes on the sins each character commits, such as Rappaccini’s intellectual pride. Beatrice is innocent and yet corrupt as well. Giovanni, on the
other hand, is being tested similar to what many Christians go through in life, but his sin is his lack of faith. He relies on his senses to interpret his reality without using his intuition to navigate his course of decisions. He cannot accept that Beatrice can also be his way of redemption, but instead chose to see her as a sin or an evil seductress (Stallman).
The story has cast Baglioni as the inadequate Christ. But the relevance is in the setting where the story is actually a symbol of an already corrupt world here on Earth. It shows how in many aspects of society, Satan has become present and winning in the hearts of man through temptation. It is a dark portrait of the world where everything in effect is corrupt in some form but more importantly, evil. The story suggests how evil is present everywhere and like poison, society is unaware of how it is bringing man towards a slow death. Many works are dedicated to analyzing the characters of Rappaccini’s Daughter, especially Beatrice. Some say she is Eve who is both the temptress and beautiful, while others say she is actually Adam who was given control over the garden by her father. Regardless of which point of view, it simply shows the double sidedness of the character. She is both a body of guilt and a source of redemption. Giovanni, who listens to material advice, is unable to grasp the idea that Beatrice is both his sin and his redemption. He is unable to accept her double sidedness making him unable to achieve salvation or even maximize his human potential (Stallman).
Beatrice has also been described as a representation of the other characters evilness, such as her father and Giovanni’s. She is a representation of their fears, desires, and obsessions all of which define unhealthy relationships. As Beatrice is the central character of the short story, it is her femaleness that causes all the other male characters to fall into different types of sin. This is the classical role women have become known to play and the blame of women being the cause of
man’s downfall is captured in Rappaccini’s Daughter. However many are quick to blame Eve in the same way they easily place the blame on Beatrice. Every individual has their own sense of concept and free will and as shown in the story, Beatrice simply becomes an easy excuse for man’s failures. Hawthorne is able to show an important idea which is accountability for one’s own mistakes. In the case of Giovanni, this is seen in his ignorance and lack of trust and Rappaccini himself is delusional of his own evil behavior. The story also shows how women can be used as a source of evil by the Devil, even unknowingly to the woman herself. She in fact, becomes the victim as the plot unfolds (Stallman).
An important element of the story is the relationship between male and females as Giovanni wants to change Beatrice by curing her. He sees himself as her savior and wants her to be healed from the poison in her body to fit to his fantasy of an ideal woman. At the same time, he is also fearful of being dominated by a woman through sexual desires, which makes him blinded to the innocence of their love in the first place. Beatrice was also envied by Baglioni, being seen as his professional rival, to which he acted out of revenge in order to settle his own fears of being professionally dominated by a woman. It was perhaps the greatest insult for his career to be upstaged by an intelligent woman. Rappaccini also uses his daughter as an experiment to attain power. He is actually self-serving by limiting his daughter’s potential under the pretense of protecting her from the outside world. Hawthorne’s greatest disliking is obviously seen in Rappaccini as he lusts for personal ambition and greatness without concern for mankind and even his own flesh and blood (Normand, 38).
Beatrice has also been described as being the classic femme fatale who every man desires but inwardly they are actually fearful of her. She is deadly but not because of her own doing and
is not purposely evil. She in fact is the only good character in the story but she symbolizes to the men in her life a double nature of good and evil. The character of Beatrice has been analyzed to portray the crises of many women today either being classified as a saint or seductress. All of the men in the story project their own impulses to Beatrice but they are in denial of their own feelings justifying themselves and cleansing their conscience in the process. An important lesson of the story is acceptance, which is actually part of the definition of love. In this case, many argue that Giovanni may have only been infatuated with Beatrice and not truly in love. Love means accepting a person for who they are, Giovanni wanted to change Beatrice and make her conform. His actions were fatal as all of them lost love by the end of the story. Beatrice has also been described as the victim of original sin, which extends to all humans for that matter making everyone have a dual nature to begin with. Significantly, this indicates the crises of man since the fall of Adam and Eve which is walking that fine line between being good and avoiding evil (Buford and Inge, 93).
One of the key elements of the story is the use of the color purple which is seen in the flowers of the garden and Beatrice’s wardrobe. The use of purple is a symbol used to symbolize death and royalty. Beatrice bearing this color adds mystery to her true being for readers. Purple is also widely used in Christianity. The allusion of Hawthorne suggests that by using this color one must wait for the time Christ will come. Jesus being the Son of God is a perfect being as his arrival on Earth is being waited upon since through him, life everlasting is granted. In this case, Rappuccini’s Daughter shows how the world remains to be imperfect without Christ’s arrival. As such, man should learn to live with the doubleness of good and evil knowing in faith that good overcomes evil and in the end that is dependent on the actions man takes (Stallman).
Another strong color used by Hawthorne in the story is black to represent Rappaccini. This is obviously a negative color that indicates the scientist’s evil nature. Hawthorne explicitly use Rappaccini to represent God or Satan, as many would argue he is simply a corrupted man. His character could be compared to the serpent in Genesis, who had underlying motivations wanting to be like God himself. The analysis of Rappaccini’s Daughter is highly complex with many critics citing the excess of themes, symbolisms and values in the story. This has resulted in many varying interpretations but has ignited debate over crucial issues tackled by the simple short story. In fact, many would simply like to view it as another tragic Romeo and Juliet where two lovers failed to reach their fairy tale ending. However, there is no doubt that Hawthorne is able to use different aspects of human emotion to create a literary masterpiece. The complexities and varying definitions only adds to historical significance of this piece of literature (Stallman).
The greatest contribution of this story is the portrayal of truth that can be different depending on whose perspective. Truth is dependent on man’s interpretation which may be a real or false reality. This blindness exists in all human beings to which the Hawthorne wants the audience to understand and perhaps even open their eyes to. Simply, the truth is man is living in an imperfect world and as long as one has a self centered attitude this blinds man’s ability to exceed towards real progress. More importantly, by accepting the truth man has a better chance of achieving redemption and even winning love at the end. Sadly, man’s downfall is his blindness to reality (Eliot, 8).
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