What parallels are there between the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament in the Bible, and the garden in Hawthorne's short story "Rappaccini's Daughter"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As the other response has noted, "Rappaccini's Daughter " is full of allusions to Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden. Most notably, perhaps, is the fact that the story largely unfolds in a beautiful garden, and that Beatrice (i.e. Eve) is a source of temptation to Giovanni (i.e....

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

As the other response has noted, "Rappaccini's Daughter" is full of allusions to Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden. Most notably, perhaps, is the fact that the story largely unfolds in a beautiful garden, and that Beatrice (i.e. Eve) is a source of temptation to Giovanni (i.e. Adam). A lot of the parallels in Hawthorne's story, however, are actually ironic reversals of the traditional Biblical story, and I think it's worthwhile highlighting those as well.

First off, consider the fact that Rappaccini slowly inoculates Giovanni against the poisonous plants in order to secure a companion for his daughter: "My daughter...thou art no longer lonely in the world. Pluck one of those precious gems from thy sister shrub and bid thy bridegroom wear it in his bosom." Rappaccini is in this sense a dark echo of the Abrahamic God, who creates Eve so that Adam will not be "alone." The danger of playing God was a mainstay of Romantic-era literature, so it's not surprising to see this theme at play in Hawthorne's story.

It's also significant that Beatrice is only a temptress in Giovanni's own mind. The narrator suggests that she is utterly pure, and that it is to Giovanni's discredit that he assumes her physical poisonousness must speak to her moral character:

With her actual presence there came influences which had too real an existence to be at once shaken off: recollections of the delicate and benign power of her feminine nature, which had so often enveloped him in a religious calm; recollections of many a holy and passionate outgush of her heart, when the pure fountain had been unsealed from its depths and made visible in its transparency to his mental eye; recollections which, had Giovanni known how to estimate them, would have assured him that all this ugly mystery was but an earthly illusion, and that, whatever mist of evil might seem to have gathered over her, the real Beatrice was a heavenly angel.

Looked at from this perspective, it is clear that Giovanni is the Eve figure in the story. It is Giovanni who "tempts" Beatrice with the antidote that in fact leads to her death, much as Eve offered Adam the apple. Hawthorne, in other words, suggests that the real "danger" in the garden is not the literal poison emanating from Beatrice or the plants, but the selfishness and suspicion that Giovanni brings into paradise with him.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are several similarities in the Old Testament story of the Garden of Eden and Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter."

One line in the short story that makes me think of the story of the Garden of Eden is Hawthorne's description when Giovanni first sees the garden in the Rappaccini's yard:

...it might once have been the pleasure-place of an opulent family...

If we read this line quite literally, we can easily see that Adam and Eve were the richest people on earth, not just because they were the first, but because they had all they could ever have wanted in the garden, with command over the animals—wanting for nothing.

Of course, there is also the presence of the serpent in the garden, the creature that tempted Eve to commit the first sin. Hawthorne also mentions a serpent-like presence in his garden:

Some [plants] were placed in urns, rich with old carving, and others in common garden-pots; some crept serpent-like along the ground...

The reference to an evil presence in this backyard garden—much like the evil in the Garden of Eden—is mentioned when Giovanni first sees Rappaccini:

...for the man's demeanor was that of one walking among malignant influences, such as savage beasts, or deadly snakes...

Hawthorne makes a direct comparison himself to the Garden of Eden:

Was this garden, then, the Eden of the present world?--and this man, with such a perception of harm in what his own hands caused to grow, was he the Adam?

Another allusion to the Garden of Eden and its occupants comes from a description of Beatrice Rappaccini:

Evidently her experience of life had been confined within the limits of that garden.

Here Beatrice is presented to be an Eve-like figure, only knowing life in the Garden and nowhere else (before eating of the fruit).

Hawthorne again draws a comparison between the two gardens:

And down he hastened into that Eden of poisonous flowers.

Overall, the most obvious parallel I see between the two stories is that there is evil lingering in the midst of the beautiful plants and flowers of both of the gardens. Also, the females (Beatrice in Hawthorne's story and Eve from the Bible) are dangerous figures to the men in the garden with them.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team