Nathaniel Hawthorne's Rappaccini's Daughter
American author Nathaniel Hawthorne has been described as a "realist" and
one who assesses the American character within the plot lines of his novels.
His story, Rappaccini’s Daughter, follows this style. Its scenario encompasses
the main character of Giovanni Guasconti, a young student who is studying at the
University of Padua in a southern region of Italy. It is Giovanni’s first time
away from home and, being of limited resources, must rent an old, dismal, and
run-down apartment. It does however overlook a beautiful garden belonging to a
Doctor Giacomo Rappiccini who cultivates it daily with his daughter, Beatrice.
Throughout the course of time, Giovanni falls in love with Beatrice and his
courting of her consists of extensive daily walks through the garden. However,
he soon finds out that Rappaccini is no ordinary doctor; the garden he nurtures
is of no ordinary shrubbery, but rather one large scientific experiment on
medical cures that houses the world’s most poisonous plants. He also discovers
that Beatrice, being raised around such toxins, has been contaminated herself;
both her breath and her touch are venomous. As if that wasn’t enough, Giovanni
realizes that the time he spent with Beatrice is having the same effect on him.
The events in Rappaccini’s Daughter are of such romantic fiction that one
wonders about the meaning behind them. Is the purpose of this story to merely
entertain? Remember that a common characteristic in Hawthorne’s novels is his
evaluation of people; their personalities, character, and relationships with
others. Consider for example, Hawthorne’s most famous novel, The Scarlett
Letter. Anyone who has read this book knows that it’s primary message is the
judgment humans place on each other. He seems to do this in order to draw a
subtle moral lesson for the reader; a "look what you do to yourselves and to
each other" message. In Rappaccini’s Daughter, Hawthorne uses his story and the
characters’ relationships with each other as a forum for examining and
accentuating the integrity of our personalities and actions toward one another.
Hawthorne uses Rappaccini’s relationship with Beatrice to show the view of a
father’s over protectiveness of his daughter. Rappaccini raises his daughter
almost like the mad scientist created Frankenstein (do link). Beatrice is
brought up in the likeness of her father, a recluse to society. She lives in
the shadow of his work and his beliefs. When the toxic garden eventually has
it’s effect on Beatrice, she is viewed as a monster of sorts, and is alienated
from the outside world. Rappiccini has created a daughter just as he has
created his garden; he allows her to grow only in the direction he...