Please give me the interpretation of the story in your own approach."Rappaccini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne   (If you choose to use any ideas from sources, please be sure to include them.)

2 Answers | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

As the guilt-ridden descendent of Puritans, Hawthorne was deeply concerned with what he termed "secret sin" and the hypocrisy of many sinners.  It is interesting that in more than one instance the garden of Dr. Rappaccini is alluded to as the Garden of Eden with Dante's Inferno also being mentioned.  And, that Beatrice is sexually alluring to Giovanni is clearly apparent:

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.

Yet, while Beatrice would appear to be Eve-like, there is an ambiguity surrounding her as well as about the goodness of both Giovanni and Dr. Baglioni that is not untypical of Hawthorne.  For, against the temptations he feels, Giovanni rationalizes the the "luxuriant vegetation" would keep him "in communion with Nature while he

could not determine how much of the singularity [of his idea] which he attributed to both [Dr. Rappacini and Beatrice], was due to their own qualities, and how much to his wonder-working fancy.  But he was inclined to take a most rational view of the whole matter.

In the ending of Hawthorne's story, it does seem that Giovanni has, indeed, rationalized his own sinful thoughts as, angered that Rapaccini has given him the poisonous breath like Beatrice's, in his selfishness, he administers to Beatrice the "antidote" that Baglioni has provided him in order to bring her into his world--hypocritically to "purify her from evil."  Hawthorne writes,

She must pass heavily, with that broken heart, across the border of Time--she must bathe her hurts in some fount of Paradise, and forget her grief in the light of immortality--there be well!

 Even knowing that she will die, Beatrice takes the antidote as, with broken heart, she does not want to live her unnatural existence anymore.  She tells Giovanni, "Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?"  As she takes the "antidote," Hawthorne comments,

Oh, weak, and selfish, and unworthy spirit, that could dream of an earthly union and earthly happiness as possible, after such deep love had been so bitterly wronged as was Beatrice's love by Gionvanni's blighting words!

With more ambiguity as to who is good in this story, Rappaccini's rival, Professor Pietro Baglioni, looks down from the window at his rival, and calls "in a tone of triumph mixed with horror to the thunder-stricken man of science,"

Rappaccini! Rappaccini!  And is this the upshot of your experiment!

With characteristic ambiguity, the Dark Romanticist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, has the reader understand again the subtlety of sin and its secretness in hearts such as those of Giovanni and Baglioni that rationalize their sins; he has the reader understand, too, the shaded evil of the tampering with nature by science that can produce horrific results. 

Top Answer

copelmat's profile pic

copelmat | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rapuccini's Daughter" is largely allegorical and explores two facets of the human experience: love and our ability/desire to twist and corrupt nature.

Dr. Rapuccini is a kind of "mad scientist" who, by exposing his daughter to poisonous plants, makes her poisonous The commentary here on the dangers and evils in the abuse of science and nature are clear. The story serves as a kind of warning of what knowledge and power can do in the hands of the ruthless and corrupt. Dr. Rupuccini's love for his own daughter is ruled by his larger desire to transform and manipulate the natural world and the laws which govern it. In the end, his own behaviors rob him of his daughter and yet his only concern is the quality of his knowledge and power.

We’ve answered 318,911 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question