“Rappaccini’s Daughter” is a gothic tale written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1844. It was included in his collection of short stories called Mosses from an Old Manse. At this time he was forty years old and had been married to Sophia Peabody for two years. “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is considered to be one of the most timeless tales ever written. The tale starts off with a young man, Giovanni, who comes to Padua to pursue his studies at the University of Padua. He rents a room in a “high and gloomy chamber” above a magical and poisonous garden. The garden is run by an old mad scientist, Dr. Rappaccini, and his gorgeous daughter, Beatrice. Giovanni falls in love with Beatrice but is warned by Professor Baglioni to stay away from her because of her poisonous nature. Professor Baglioni gives Giovanni an antidote for Beatrice to rid her of her poisons. The tale ends tragically when the innocent Beatrice takes the antidote and falls to her death. Many readers see the story as an allegorical tale. Rappaccini’s garden allegorical to the Garden of Eden. It is important to note the characters as they symbolize Adam and Eve and God and Satan. Rappaccini is a scientist who studies the medicinal properties of plants. He plays God with the life of his daughter and with his “natural” creations. Giovanni is a young medical student who symbolizes Adam. Beatrice is the pure and innocent but poisonous daughter of Rappaccini. She symbolizes Eve. Professor Baglioni is a friend of Giovanni and the academic rival of Dr. Rappaccini. We see him as good and evil, and he symbolizes the Devil in the Garden of Eden. Lisabetta is Giovanni’s housekeeper, a kind elderly woman. It is also important to notice the shrub; the central shrub is symbolic because it represents the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The story studies many major themes, three of which will be examined in this essay: the drug as a double, romance as a drug, and nature versus science as a double in a context where the “creators” produce the pharmakon, the drug which is both poison and remedy. Romantic love also proves to be toxic, because of the confusion of the image of the beloved with the real person. The first theme to study is the drug as a double. The drug in the story is the shrub, called both belladonna, and Deadly Nightshade. Belladonna is both good and evil; it is both a medicine and a poison. Belladonna, also known as Deadly Nightshade, can only thrive in dark moist areas. Its deadly character is due to the presence of an alkaloid, Atropine. Belladonna is also an Italian word which means “beautiful lady.” (Grieve, History) Hence, Beatrice is the “beautiful lady.” Historically women would use the juices to dilate their pupils; pupils become dilated when one’s aroused, which would one appear more beautiful. Hawthorne, knowing exactly what this drug does, relates often the beauty of Beatrice’s eyes. Belladonna is said to record an old superstition that at certain times it takes the form of an enchantress of exceeding loveliness, whom it is dangerous to look upon (Grieve, History). Beatrice is filled with poison from this magical shrub. Her father had made this shrub for her and it grew from the soil on the day she was born. She considers the shrub her “sister” and she has nourished it her whole life with her breath. Both Beatrice and the shrub are described in very similar ways: There was one shrub in particular, set in a marble vase in the midst of the pool, that bore a profusion of purple blossoms, each of which had the luster and richness of a gem, and the whole together made a show so resplendent, that it seemed enough to illuminate the garden, even had there been no sunshine. (37)
…cried a rich and youthful voice from the window of the opposite house, -a voice as rich as a tropical sunset, and which made Giovanni, through he knew not why, think of deep hues of purple or crimson and of perfumes heavily delectable. (39)
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