Describe the character of Beatrice in Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Rappaccini's Daughter."

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Rappaccini's Daughter" only has four characters, and Beatrice is one of them. She is the daughter of Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini, and she is his only child. Her mother has died, so it is just she and her father who live in a house with a glorious and grotesque garden, which both of them tend.

Beatrice is a beautiful young girl who loves her father very much. The first time Hawthorne introduces her, he says she is 

arrayed with as much richness of taste as the most splendid of the flowers, beautiful as the day, and with a bloom so deep and vivid that one shade more would have been too much. She looked redundant with life, health, and energy; all of which attributes were bound down and compressed, as it were and girdled tensely, in their luxuriance, by her virgin zone.

Her face radiates "simplicity and sweetness," and she lovingly cares for the plants in the garden.

At the same time, there is something rather "too much" about her, just like so many of the plants and flowers of the garden. While they are colorful and luxuriant, they are also rather grotesque in their exaggerated effulgence. They are just a bit too vivid and brilliant in their coloring. The same is true of Beatrice. 

Beatrice resembles, in a startling way, one of the most beautiful plants in the garden. In fact, Hawthorne many times uses the word "sisters" when he talks about both this plant and Beatrice. Later we learn that both Beatrice and this plant were "born" on the same day,  actually making them sisters of a sort.

Beatrice lives an isolated life because her father insists upon it. Unbeknown to Beatrice, Rappaccini (an unfeeling, "mad scientist" type) has gradually exposed Beatrice to a poison in hopes of making her indestructible, immune to the potential dangers in the world. What he actually created was a girl who inadvertently hurts or kills everything she touches or breathes upon--including the young man she loves. 

When Beatrice discovers what her father has done and what she has lost because of it, she no longer wants to live. She swallows what is supposed to be the antidote; however, "as poison had been [to her in] life, so the powerful antidote was [to her in] death." Beatrice dies before she ever had a chance to really live. 

 

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