What is the moral conflict in "Rappaccini's Daughter"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In his story, "Rappaccini's Daughter," Hawthorne raises a question proposed by others such as Victor Hugo with his character Claude Frollo and Mary Shelley with Victor Frankenstein: What are the ethical boundaries of science? 

When science infringes upon love, there are horrific repercussions as in Hawthorne's narrative. In his efforts to protect his daughter Beatrice, Dr. Rappacini seeks to protect her by wrapping her in poison to which she has developed an immunity because of her father's potions.  But, in the end she is susceptible to the envious service of Rappacini's rival, Dr. Baglioni, who convinces the innocent Giovanni to give her an antidote which destroys her.  Thus, Giovanni becomes corrupted morally as his selfish desires for Beatrice effect her demise. For, the fatal love of science of Rappacini and Baglioni produces moral conflicts with characters that ultimately result in estrangement and death.  Beatrice tells Giovanni,

"There was an awful doom...the effect of my father's fatal love of science--which estranged me from all society of my kind."

In his effort to protect his daughter, Rapaccini has severed Beatrice from all other human contact than himself. And, in loving her Giovanni has separated himself from the rest of the world.



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