man and woman looking at one another and the woman is filled with plants and vines that are creeping into the man's body

Rappaccini's Daughter

by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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What do you know that the character Giovanni does not yet know about what has happened to him in "Rappaccini's Daughter"?

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Giovanni doesn't know that Dr. Rappaccini's beautiful daughter, Beatrice is, quite literally, poisonous. This doesn't mean that she's nasty or unpleasant; it means that she has poison coursing through her veins. In turn, this means that she can contaminate people and other living things by just touching them.

This is precisely what happens to Giovanni, who is initially unaware of Beatrice's unusual condition. One day, while walking in the garden, he reaches out to pluck a blossom for her, but Beatrice immediately seizes his hand and warns him never to touch it. Now that she's touched Giovanni, Beatrice has contaminated him with her poison. From now on, Giovanni will have a similarly negative effect on living creatures as Beatrice herself.

As an expert storyteller, Hawthorne doesn't reveal the nature of Beatrice's condition straight away. He allows us at first to see her as nothing more than a sweet, beautiful young lady. Of course, there are one or two clues that all is not well with her. For one thing, unlike her mad scientist father, she doesn't use gloves when touching what is presumably a poisonous plant in the garden. It also seems more than a little strange that a butterfly should drop dead in mid-flight while flying near to Beatrice's face.

What Hawthorne is doing here is to keep us and Giovanni suitably intrigued so that we'll want to find out what it is about this young lady that makes her so beguiling.

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