Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Rappaccini's Daughter Themes

The main themes in "Rappaccini's Daughter" are corruption, morality, and science.

  • Corruption: Both Beatrice and the plants in Rappaccini's garden are beautiful, but deadly. They have both been rendered poisonous by Rappaccini's scientific pursuits, corrupted both literally and metaphorically.
  • Morality: Rappaccini 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.
  • Science: Rappaccini, a brilliant scientist, treats everything as an experiment, including his daughter. Rappaccini represents the dangers of immoral and selfish scientific pursuits.

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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 in the face of an admittedly tainted world are repeatedly suggested: “His love grew thin and faint as the morning mist,” “that cunning semblance of love which flourishes in the imagination, but strikes no depth of root into the heart.” Before he descends to the garden on the last occasion, he mutters venomously, “She is the only being whom my...

(The entire section is 514 words.)