Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” concludes with the following paragraph:
To Beatrice--so radically had her earthly part been wrought upon by Rappaccini's skill--as poison had been life, so the powerful antidote was death. And thus the poor victim of man's ingenuity and of thwarted nature, and of the fatality that attends all such efforts of perverted wisdom, perished there, at the feet of her father and Giovanni. Just at that moment, Professor Pietro Baglioni looked forth from the window, and called loudly, 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?"
What is the significance of Baglioni’s final words? Several possibilities suggest themselves, including these:
- Baglioni is upset that Rappaccini’s experiments have led to the unnecessary death of Rappaccini’s daughter. According to this interpretation, Baglioni cares more about Beatrice than Rappaccini does.
- Baglioni is upset because Rappaccinni, a fellow scientist, has betrayed the ethical standards that should guide the work of scientists.
- Baglioni is upset that Rappaccini has now placed Giovanni in exactly the same unfortunate position that Rappaccini’s daughter had once occupied. In a bizarre sense, Giovanni has now become Rappaccini’s “son.” Earlier he had been, in some sense, the “son” of Baglioni, but now his situation has subtly changed.
- Baglioni wishes to torment his old rival by calling explicit attention to the failure of Rappaccini’s experiments; hence his partial “tone of triumph.”
- Some critics have suggested that Baglioni had actually anticipated that Beatrice would die if she drank Baglioni’s potion; in that case, Baglioni may be trying to “pin the blame” totally on Rappaccini and distract attention from his own partial responsibility for Beatrice’s death. According to this view, Baglioni does not want to face “the upshot” of his own “experiment.”
Something extra: Hawthorne’s story invites attention from a historical point of view. Like various other works of the early to mid-nineteenth century (such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Hawthorne’s own story “The Birthmark”), this tale raises disquieting questions about the horrific consequences that might result if science – one of the great forces of the nineteenth century – were used in unethical ways.