Rappaccini’s Daughter Summary

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Rappaccini’s Daughter

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Rappaccini’s Daughter Summary

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Hawthorne’s short story begins in the distant past in the northern Italian city of Padua. There, Giovanni Guasconti rents a room while he studies letters at the university. From his room he can see the beautiful Beatrice, the daughter of Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini. Rappaccini works in isolation despite his brilliance, and his daughter is confined to the garden into which Guasconti can see.

Guasconti learns from Dr. Pietro Baglioni, a professor of medicine, that, although Rappaccini is brilliant, he’s heartless, and cares for science much more than he cares for people.

Beatrice rarely leaves the garden, tending the beautiful plants there with extreme diligence and an intriguing sort of intimacy. From the window of his quarters, Guasconti falls in love with her, though he notices that fresh flowers wither in her presence, and an insect dies when it touches her skin.

Guasconti pays his housekeeper to show him a secret path into the garden. Beatrice is even more beautiful up close. The two young people continue to meet more frequently and Guasconti falls more deeply in love. As he makes more and more visits to the garden, Guasconti notices that he’s becoming poison. Plants die in his hands.

Baglioni explains to Guasconti that Rappaccini has raised his daughter around poisons, part of his research, and as a result, Beatrice herself has become poisonous. Beatrice implores Guasconti to see her for who she truly is—an innocent, loving person trapped inside the poisonous exterior.

Guasconti receives from Baglioni an antidote they believe will cure Beatrice of her condition. However, instead of curing her, the antidote kills her.

The themes in this story revolve around two sets of extremes. The first pair, beauty and corruption, are encapsulated in both the garden and Beatrice. In each case, outward beauty hides danger. Additionally, the danger presented by both is not a fault of their own. The plants are both beautiful and poisonous by their very nature, and Beatrice’s upbringing at the hands of her father have made her dangerous.

The second pair, science and humanity, is represented by Rappaccini. Here his science has completely overwhelmed his sense of humanity. As a result, his daughter is doomed. Still, science isn’t inherently bad. Its application, however, can be used for evil, even if the intent of the scientist is not purely evil. Failing to adequately understand the nature of one’s scientific advancements can result in terrible things happening, especially if one ignores science’s human toll.

“Rappaccini’s Daughter” has influenced several other works of literature, including operas and plays. The story has been adapted to film and radio, as well. Additionally, a small handful of comic book characters have been inspired by the story.