The short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” can be seen as a love story about young man determined to be with his beloved, despite the fact that she is poisonous. However, when examining the text, underlying theme about science arise. During the time in which this piece was written, science was rapidly evolving. “All biological sciences must first go through a taxonomic stage since their data must be put in order before they can be employed in research on an analytical level”(Shryock 291) “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne uses Rappaccini’s unrelenting pursuit of knowledge that resulted in the tragic loss of his daughter; to show the productive and destructive powers of scientific discovery, which evolved American society during the 18th century.
The main character is a young man named Geovanni; he falls madly in love with Beatrice, the daughter of the mysterious Dr. Rappaccini. The scientist has a magnificent garden of poisonous plant that even nature could not produce; he had his daughter handling them which eventually lead to her becoming poisonous herself. Geovanni is warned by his teacher Professor Baglioni, that Dr. Rappaccini is known to use science to do unnatural things. “But as for Rappaccini, it is said of him- and I, who know the man well, can answer for its truth- that he cares infinitely more for science than for mankind.”(Hawthorne 1035) He was willing to sacrifice his own daughter to carry out his relentless quest for knowledge; and the ability to control nature.
Parallels that can be draw between the story and the destructive and constructive power of science that were at work during the18th century. These include the evolution of science, man’s desire to have dominion over nature, the advancement of medicine, and the misuse of science to justify inequalities. The productive and destructive powers of scientific discovery could also be seen as a power struggle between good and evil. These discoveries helped shape the views of 18th century American society. Parallels about religion can also be made by comparing Rappaccini’s poisonous garden and the Garden of Eden. The story contains many biblical allegories which hinted to the viewpoint of that time.
The most significant Parallel that can be made between the story and 18th century American Society is the use of science to explain the rank of creatures in nature. “The Mismeasure of Man” by Stephen Jay Gould is an important tool in critiquing the misuse of science to justify social inequalities such as racism and sexism. “In assessing the impact of science upon the 18th century views of race we must first recognize the cultural milieu of a society whose leaders and intellectuals did not doubt the propriety of racial ranking- with Indians below Whites and Blacks below every one”(Gould 63) Rappaccini uses the excuse that the world is dangerous to justify why her made his daughter poisonous. He fails to realize that he is actually hurting his...