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 are three gothic elements in "Rappaccini's Daughter"?

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Three Gothic elements in "Rappaccini's Daughter" are Beatrice's poisonous breath, her creepy father, and the toxic plants in the Rappaccini garden.

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The Gothic puts us into touch with the uncanny, the parts of ourselves or our world that we don't want to see. For this reason, it is associated with what Freud called the return of the repressed, the places where unpleasant realities we have hidden away in our unconscious minds resurface. Awareness of death is one of the key realities we repress, and exploration of death is a key element of the Gothic.

Breath is associated with life, but in this story it becomes an eery, Gothic element associated with dying. Beatrice's death is poisonous rather than life giving. Giovanni has a difficult time understanding how the beautiful, young Beatrice, who seems in the bloom of life, can be the agent of the death she seems to bring, such as that of the beautiful insect:

it grew faint and fell at her feet;—its bright wings shivered; it was dead—from no cause that he could discern, unless it were the atmosphere of her breath.

Beatrice can be seen as a symbol of the contagion and disease we don't like to acknowledge, but which sometimes lies hidden in common or beautiful objects.

Likewise, we tend to repress that all fathers aren't benign. In this story, the evil father, a Gothic figure, emerges in the form of the "cold" scientist, Rappaccini, who Professor Baglioni describes as evil:

as he bends over a bird, a mouse, or a butterfly, which, in pursuance of some experiment, he has killed by the perfume of a flower;—a look as deep as Nature itself, but without Nature's warmth of love.

Rather than protecting life, as we like to believe a parent will, Rappaccini destroys it.

Finally, the Gothic landscape is often eerie and distorted. Giovanni experiences this as he watches Rappaccini's seemingly beautiful garden from his window, noting that Rappaccini avoids touching his plants:

he avoided their actual touch, or the direct inhaling of their odors, with a caution that impressed Giovanni most disagreeably; for the man's demeanor was that of one walking among malignant influences, such as savage beasts, or deadly snakes, or evil spirits, which, should he allow them one moment of license, would wreak upon him some terrible fatality.

This is the dark side of a garden or any natural setting, which can harbor danger and death as well as beauty and life.

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Hawthorne employs the kind of inflated language associated with Gothic fiction. For example, the lodgings taken by Giovanni Guasconti are "gloomy," and Signor Rappaccini approaches the plants as though they possess some "terrible fatality." It all seems "strangely frightful" to Giovanni. His dreams, after his first sighting of Rappaccini and Beatrice, were full of the "mysteries" he imagined. When he awakens, he feels "surprised, and a little ashamed" by what he'd imagined before. When Giovanni sees the death of the lizard, he wonders if Beatrice is beautiful or "terrible." Language that is expressive of mystery, terror, surprise, and even darkness is common to Gothic fiction.

Another element commonly associated with the Gothic is supernatural or seemingly inexplicable events. For example, when Giovanni sees Beatrice interacting with the flowers in the garden, he thinks, "Flower and maiden were different and yet the same, and fraught with some strange peril in either shape." When a drop of moisture fell from the flower that Beatrice plucks and lands on a lizard, "the reptile contorted itself violently, and then lay motionless in the sunshine." Later, an insect on which she breathes falls dead. These are seemingly inexplicable events that seem connected to the supernatural somehow (though they are, actually, perversely natural).

A third element often associated with the Gothic is a powerful, authoritative male who seems threatening, especially to a younger woman. In this story, that person is Signor Giacomo Rappaccini. He is described as a

tall, emaciated, sallow, and sickly looking man, dressed in a scholar's garb of black. He [had] a face singularly marked with intellect and cultivation, but which could never, even in his more youthful days, have expressed much warmth of heart.

Rappaccini is cold, even cruel. Early on, Signor Pietro Baglioni tells Giovanni that Rappaccini

would sacrifice human life, his own among the rest, or whatever else was dearest to him, for the sake of adding so much as a grain of mustard-seed to the great heap of his accumulated knowledge.

He sacrifices his daughter's happiness for the sake of his own ambition and experimentation.

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“Rappaccini’s Daughter” contains a number of Gothic elements, including the setting, the supernatural and extreme emotions.

Gothic fiction usually involves some kind of old, run-down castle or large home. The general atmosphere of the place is forbidding, gloomy, and slightly sinister.

The garden certainly fits this description.

“Or, not improbably, it might once have been the pleasure-place of an opulent family; for there was the ruin of a marble fountain in the centre, sculptured with rare art, but so woefully shattered that it was impossible to trace the original design from the chaos of remaining fragments.”

The garden exudes an unwelcoming air. As Giovanni watches Rappaccini walk through it, he is puzzled to see the doctor wearing heavy gloves and even a mask to protect himself from the plants. “When, in his walk through the garden, he came to the magnificent plant that hung its purple gems beside the marble fountain, he placed a kind of mask over his mouth and nostrils, as if all this beauty did but conceal a deadlier malice.” This mysteriousness and hint of danger in the setting is a common Gothic element.

Another Gothic element is the use of the supernatural and death. Often the supernatural may take the form of ghosts or demons. In this story, Rappaccini’s daughter is supernatural. She is not dead or inhuman, but she is poisonous. Whatever she touches dies. Because she was raised in the poison garden, she has built up immunity to the plants, but she herself has become as deadly as one of them. Her very breath kills any living creature near her.

A third Gothic element in this story can be found in the intense emotions felt by various characters. Giovanni loves Beatrice passionately, but he also hates her passionately when he realizes he is now as poisonous as she is.

“Yes, poisonous thing!” repeated Giovanni, beside himself with passion. “Thou hast done it! Thou hast blasted me! Thou hast filled my veins with poison! Thou hast made me as hateful, as ugly, as loathsome and deadly a creature as thyself — a world's wonder of hideous monstrosity! Now — if our breath be happily as fatal to ourselves as to all others — let us join our lips in one kiss of unutterable hatred, and so die!”

Beatrice shows the depths of her love by insisting on drinking the antidote first, asking Giovanni to wait to make sure it is safe. She dies in order to try to save him.

The spooky setting, supernatural powers, and intense emotions are all common elements in Gothic literature, and all are present in “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”

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What are the gothic features in "Rappaccini's Daughter"?

"Rappaccini's Daughter" is a 1844 short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, written at a period in which Romantic or Gothic story writing was flourishing. It has several Gothic elements, described below.

The first Gothic element is one of an exotic setting. It was set in Padua, Italy in some unspecified period of the past, and thus would have appeared exotic to its American readers.

Next, there is the house with its association with the aristocracy and the mysterious doctor skilled in arcane knowledge. The protagonist and other major characters are distinguished by their extraordinary nature: the two scientists by their brilliance and the two young people by their physical beauty.

The protagonist through whose eyes we see the story is an innocent who only gradually begins to understand the evil surrounding him, despite a significant number of warnings or foreshadowings. This helps to create the typically Gothic foreboding atmosphere.

Finally, the narrator routinely uses adjectives and other descriptive devices to enhance to sense of lurking evil or menace. He describes the lodging room as "a high and gloomy chamber of an old edifice" and immediately suggests that the house itself once belonged to a family, including one of the evil aristocrats who appears in Hell in Dante's Inferno.

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