Rappaccini's Daughter Themes

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne develops themes of poison and corruption in "Rappaccini's Daughter." Rappaccini's garden, though beautiful, consists almost entirely of deadly, exotic plants, which Rappaccini cultivates for his experiments. The beauty of the garden has often led to comparisons to the Garden of Eden, while its corruption has been linked to the fall of man.
  • At heart, "Rappaccini's Daughter" is a story about good and evil. Rappaccini, the brilliant but amoral scientist, values science over all else, including his own daughter. He doesn't think of his scientific experiments in terms of good and evil, and yet the story makes it clear that Rappaccini is a villain who must be stopped.
  • Science emerges as one of the underlying themes of "Rappaccini's Daughter." Rappaccini, a brilliant scientist, treats everything as an experiment, including his daughter. He deliberately raises her in the company of poisons, testing his theory that a person can be made into a poison. Hawthorne uses the character of Rappaccini to warn readers about the dangers of corrupting science for one's amoral pursuits.

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This parable of the Fall from innocence in a poisonous garden of Eden has several levels of meaning, not all of them explicitly stated. The Eden analogy is certainly clear, and one may assume that the garden, with its ruined fountain, is in some sense a microcosm of the fallen world cursed by sin and death. Perhaps it is the world that might ensue if scientists value knowledge and power more than human love.

Nathaniel Hawthorne suggested in other stories as well, such as “The Birthmark” and “The Great Carbuncle,” that the scientist in his intellectual pride might destroy the natural blessings that God has provided. This sentiment was a fairly common one at the time. The technique of grafting plants was recently discovered and widely distrusted as an impious if not dangerous interference with God’s intentions. While such processes seem innocent enough today, readers may certainly recognize the “mad scientist” motif still popular in science fiction.

The imagery of the story, however, is primarily religious and moral. Granted Rappaccini’s malevolent impact, Giovanni falls from grace not entirely through the machinations of a satanic scientist. To be sure, the young man seems to have been lured deliberately into the garden by the doctor, not by Beatrice herself, to serve as a companion for the isolated girl. He falls not because of Beatrice’s evil nature, but because of his own shallow capacity for love. Giovanni’s shortcomings...

(The entire section is 514 words.)