Beatrice’s Inner Strength: a Feminist Approach to Rappaccini's Daughter

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In reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dark tale, Rappaccini’s Daughter, one immediately begins to question the seductive relationship between Beatrice and Giovanni, and the loving relationship between herself and her father. Beatrice is an interesting character because she has several distinct female qualities; she is intelligent, beautiful, sinister, maternal, and seductive, all dominant female characteristics not often seen in one character in mid-19th-century literature. Beatrice is also able to guard her emotions well and is careful who she lets into her world but at the same time, she falls for Giovanni very quickly and is willing to sacrifice her life for his. Several times during the reading I questioned Hawthorne’s intent in creating a character like Beatrice. She is vile and sinister yet beautiful and seductive, and, at the same time, I question why Hawthorne created a character like Giovanni, who I consider to be an emotionally weak male that falls for a sinister yet intelligent young woman that is his polar opposite. In researching what critics have said about this triangular relationship between Beatrice, Rappaccini, and Giovanni several arguments have noted that Beatrice can be seen as a woman who is being pulled apart between the love of a father and the love of a man. In addition, she is not able to make her own choices in life because dominant males control her world. This triangular relationship seems to be very sinister because all three people want something out of each other and they would stop at nothing to get what they want. For example, Giovanni creates a relationship with Beatrice when he knows that there will be problems but he still wants to covet Rappaccini’s beautiful daughter. While Rappaccini, on the other hand, wants eternal happiness for his daughter but at the same time has made her poisonous that she cannot experience true happiness with other men. Beatrice plays a duel role, first as a seductress trying to find love in an enclosed environment and second, she turns out to be the victim of a cruel experiment her father created. When one analyzes the text a question does come to mind: what is Beatrice’s true desire? Clearly, the text points out that Giovanni and other men in Padua fall madly in love with the beautiful Beatrice because of her beauty, intelligence, and maternal instincts but why does she want Giovanni?  With her beauty couldn’t she have had any man? When we read a tale like Rappaccini’s Daughter it is difficult to understand all the symbolism, allegories, and Transcendental rhetoric imbedded in the story as readers we come up with questions that we may or may not be able to answer. In order to stay focused on the story one must, as Wolfgang Iser put it, “consistency-build” when one reads. This is crucial when reading a text like Rappaccini’s Daughter because it is a “dynamic interaction in which the active reader is constantly responding to the meanings he produces in this interaction” (48). In other words, there are many ways that a reader may analyze this particular text but the reader needs to bring in everything that he or she has learned and focus one main reaction. This main reaction will produce “meaning and significance” for the reader and bring about a clear interpretation. My choice is to focus on Beatrice so I can determine what kind of woman she is and to find out whether or not Beatrice died a meaningful or meaningless death. At the beginning of the story, Beatrice is noticeably a caring but guarded individual, she wanders through the garden like some beautiful goddess, tending to the different plants as if they were her children, and she also bides her time by caring for her father and defending his work. After she meets Giovanni, something changes within her and the plot of the story begins to take a sinister route. Beatrice falls in love with Giovanni and allows him to enter into her secluded but private life, while Rappaccini closely monitors her progression into...
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