“Rappacini’s Daughter” Essay, Research Paper
The Scientific Experimentation That Destroys Beatrice in ?Rappacini?s Daughter?
Most parents would put their children ahead of their occupation at all costs. In many cases this is true, but for Rappacini in Nathaniel Hawthorne?s ?Rappacini?s Daughter,? his scientific experiments prove to be more important to him than his daughter Beatrice?s wellbeing. His selfishness leads to both the physical and emotional destruction of Beatrice?s romantic aspirations for Giovanni Guasconti. The unique situations encountered in ?Rappacini?s Daughter?, represent an emotional struggle for Beatrice, which relates to the different interpretations of scientific advancement during this Romantic Era.
An important theme in ?Rappacini?s Daughter? is the fear of change and progress, and how Beatrice becomes intertwined with both science and nature. During this Romantic Era, many people thought that scientific advancements would destroy nature. Rappacini symbolizes the destructiveness of science, whereas Beatrice represents the beauty of nature. Outwardly Rappacini has made Beatrice a threat to nature and humanity by making her poisonous, but inwardly she thrives on nature?s existence. Beatrice?s inability to interact with any individuals besides her father and Giovanni result in her own isolationism from nature and society. Professor Pietro Baglioni also symbolizes the fear of change through his intense rivalry with Rappacini. Baglioni is a conventional doctor who practices conservative methods, whereas, Rappacini practices unconventional methods by creating medicines from poisonous plants. The competition between these two scientific doctors escalates to such an immense degree, that Beatrice?s death becomes the ultimate result. Their constant rivalry and human interference in nature?s physical and psychological processes depicts the obvious account of how nature becomes destroyed. (Citizen Q 1)
Another struggle for Beatrice is the unattainable love that becomes intertwined between Giovanni and her. Rappacini destroys her one and only love, Giovanni, by making him a part of his self-centered scientific experiment. Giovanni exhibits the same poisonous qualities as Beatrice, and cannot return to his ordinary way of life within society. Beatrice learns that the things she desires can never be attained by limits outside of her reach. After coming to this realization, she drinks the deathly potion created by Baglioni, to help ease her sorrow and isolationism. This romantic ideal expresses the concept that having nothing left to love is a fate more devastating than death. Beatrice?s death seems justified since she is finally released from the desolation of her previous life which held her captive to science and her father. (Citizen Q 1)
A deeper interpretation of Beatrice?s role as a woman is romantically depicted through mythology. Hawthorne, who was concerned with women?s rights, represents classical mythology by explaining that women are the solitary explanation for humanity?s downfall. This decline is seen through the eyes of the gods, but as partners in humanity?s spiritual deterioration, and martyrs for the benefits of humanity (McNeill 1). When Baglioni describes the mystery behind Beatrice to Giovanni he says, ?You haven?t heard of this daughter, whom all the good men in Padua are wild about, though not half a dozen have ever had the good hap to see her face? (Hawthorne 1642). Beatrice and the mythological character Medusa are associated with one another (McNeill 4). Many men attempted to conquer Medusa, but only few of them lived to see her face because she turned them into stone at first sight (McNeill 4). Beatrice is also associated with another evil mythological creature, the Minotaur. This mythological tale relates to ?Rappacini?s Daughter?, when Giovanni is taken ?along several obscure passages? to the garden, and when he and Beatrice are walking together and stop ?after many turns among its avenues? (Hawthorne 1646). The passages refer to the Minotaurs?s labyrinth in Hawthorne?s ?The Minotaur? (McNeill 5). The conqueror of the Minotaur, Theseus, voyages on, as Giovanni challenges to meet the beast (Beatrice) (McNeill 5). King Minos, who created the Minotaur, takes care of his health and comfort only for the sake of being mischievous (McNeill 5). Rappacini takes care of Beatrice, his dangerous experiment, for similar reasons. Both the Minotaur and Beatrice are abominations, are created by their father, and are pursued by a hero figure who is closely involved with their death (McNeill 5). Beatrice?s feminist role is interconnected with these evil mythological characters that help to reaffirm the notion that women during the Romantic Era were considered to be the cause of many horrendous problems.
Along with the mythological comparisons, Beatrice and other characters in ?Rappacini?s Daughter? also have biblical references, which parallel to their life?s emotional struggle in the story. Much like chapters two and three in the Book of Genesis, Rappacini tries to become more like God by trying to achieve the power of being able to change plants and humans in the garden (?Bible? 1). Therefore, giving him more authority over the garden and its belongings (?Bible? 1). In Genesis chapter three, Adam and Eve, who can be linked to Giovanni and Beatrice, experiment in the garden by tasting the forbidden fruit, which they believe will make them more like God (?Bible? 1). However, in both situations, the result is not that the individuals become more like God, but that they are stuck in a dilemma which they have to suffer under adversity that they had not expected (?Bible? 1). When Beatrice dies she says that she is going where the poisonous fragrance ?will no longer taint my breath among the flowers of Eden,? meaning the other Eden, which is paradise (Fitzgerald 193). Beatrice exhibits the qualities of Eve tending the Garden of Eden, in which her life is confined (Fitzgerald 193). Science was not a relative component during the lifetime of Adam and Eve, and can also be interpreted as obstructing the naturalistic lives of people living during the Romantic Era.
Most scientific development was generally considered to be heresy during the Romantic Era. Baglioni gives Giovanni the antidote to the poison which he and Beatrice have both ingested, in order to help Rappacini come to the realization that what he is doing is evil (?Bible? 1). Rappacini is also striving to become more like God (?Bible 1?). He tries to inform others that he has a greater sense of knowledge and reasoning while also claiming to envision their flaws (?Bible? 1). Both Adam and Eve and Baglioni are placed in new environments, in order to master their own superiority (?Bible? 1). Their ambition to become something greater relates to Rappacini?s scheme of his unhealthy obsession with science. Even Baglioni understand the limits of science. In the last lines of the story, ?Baglioni looked forth from the window, and called loudly, in a tone of triumph mixed with horror, to the thunderstricken man of science- ?Rappacini! Rappacini! And this is the upshot of your experiment?? (Hawthorne 1655) Rappacini?s evil scientific ways finally catch up with him when he ultimately causes the death of Beatrice.
Even though scientific advancements effected the insignificance role of women during the Romantic Era, some critics argue that Hawthorne challenged the norm and portrayed Beatrice in a sympathetic matter. Hawthorne portrays his women not as the cause of evil, but as victims of evil. They become vengeful when men abuse their rich physical gifts. Beatrice is only monstrous because of what an evil man did to her. Hawthorne indicates that the reputation that women have carried with them throughout history has continued to be negative. Giovanni discovers that Beatrice is not the beast that others have made her out to be, rather that she is an important member of humanity. Hawthorne wishes that men and women of the future would follow in these footsteps, and helps to achieve his objective by reinventing Beatrice in a positive perspective. Rappacini?s experiments are used in a vindictive way, unlike the uncontrollable life led by the innocent Beatrice. (McNeill 5)
The various interpretations of ?Rappacini?s Daughter? all lead to the notion that Rappacini is a selfish man, who stepped out of his boundaries in the field of science. His own scientific curiosity led to the destruction of Beatrice who only wanted one thing, to be happy and fulfill her dreams with the Giovanni. This short story touched on many important issues, which does not only apply to the Romantic Era, but applies to society today. Such as, the limits of scientific experiments and women?s roles in society. The thought-provoking hidden meanings and the combination of science, romance, and death are the key elements in ?Rappacini?s Daughter? that accurately portray the mindset of many people who lived during the Romantic Era.
Citizen Q. Romanticism. Usenet.1999. 15 March 2000.
Fitzgerald, Sheila. Short Story Criticism. Vol 3. Detroit: Gale, 1989.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. ?Rappaccini?s Daughter?. The American Tradition in Literature. Vol 1 Ed. Perkins,
George and Culley Bradley. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990. 1637-1655
McNeill, J. Dylan. ?Rappaccini?s Daughter: From Mythological Monster to Martyr.? Essex. April 1998.
15 March 2000.
?Rappaccini?s Daughter and its Relationship to the Bible.? Belmont education. September 1999. 15 March 2000.