" Rappaccini's Daughter" Theme & Characters of the story

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" Rappaccini's Daughter" Theme & Characters of the story

Post by Archer on Tue Jan 18, 2011 7:18 am

Characters

Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini (pronunciation: JAHK uh mo Rahp uh CHEE ne): Renowned but sinister Padua physician who cultivates highly poisonous plants in his garden with the help of his daughter. He then attempts to extract medical cures from the poisons.

Giovanni Guasconti (pronunciation: Joh VAHN e Gwa SKOHN te): Handsome Neapolitan student enrolled in the medical curriculum at the University of Padua. He lives in an apartment overlooking Rappaccini's garden and makes the acquaintance of the doctor's daughter, whose beauty and mysterious powers fascinate him.
Beatrice Rappaccini: Daughter of Dr. Rappaccini. Over the years, her father has exposed her to toxins in his plants and flowers as part of his experimentation. As a result, she becomes poisonous like the flowers, capable of killing an insect or an animal merely by breathing on it. However, she herself is immune to the effects of the toxins. She lives a life of isolation in the doctor's house and garden.

Dr. Pietro Baglioni (pronunciation: PYET ro Bal YOHN e): Professor of medicine at the University of Padua to whom Giovanni Guasconti reports with a letter of introduction from his father, a friend of the professor. Baglioni and Dr. Rappaccini are professional rivals and bitter enemies, one striving to outdo the other in medical achievements.

Old Lisabetta (pronunciation: Leez uh BET uh): Housekeeper in the mansion where Giovanni Guasconti rents an apartment. She shows Giovanni through corridors that lead to a secret entrance to Dr. Rappaccini's garden.

Main Theme: Corruption
.......Corruption is the main theme of “Rappaccini's” daughter. Among the definitions of corruption are these: (1) wickedness, evil, malignity; (2) contamination, pollution, decay. Hawthorne focuses on both kinds of corruption, contrasting one with the other in order to make clear this truth: that the more heinous form of corruption is the first kind, which lodges in the human heart and intellect.
.......The theme of corruption begins to manifest itself when old Lisabetta refers to the “strange flowers” that grow in the garden and the narrator mentions plants that “crept serpent-like along the ground.” When Rappaccini appears in the garden to study the plants, the narrator observes that “the man's demeanor was that of one walking among malignant influences, such as savage beasts, or deadly snakes, or evil spirits, which, should he allow them one moment of license, would wreak upon him some terrible fatality.”
.......But the real evil is not in the garden plants; it is in Rappaccini. He is a canker that generates corruption. He first corrupts his soul, committing the father of all sins, pride, by defying God and nature in order to aggrandize his reputation through experiments that turn his garden into an evil Eden. His experimentation also corrupts his body, which becomes feeble and sickly, and transforms his innocent daughter into a poisonous agent whose very breath can kill.
.......His evildoing extends also to old Lisabetta, whom he apparently uses as his cat's paw to ensnare Giovanni—via Beatrice's charms—for his experiments. When and how he persuaded or forced Lisabetta to serve him is unknown, but her complicity in his scheming becomes apparent when she informs Giovanni of a secret door to the garden. Giovanni reacts with this thought: “[T]his interposition of old Lisabetta might perchance be connected with the intrigue, whatever were its nature, in which the Professor seemed to suppose that Doctor Rappaccini was involving him [Giovanni].”
.......In spite of his misgivings, Giovanni enters the garden to strike up a relationship with the lovely Beatrice. Over time, his contact with her and the noxious perfumes in the garden corrupt his body, turning it into a reservoir of poison. Outraged, he impugns Beatrice as the corrupting agent.

......."Accursed one!" cried he, with venomous scorn and anger. "And finding thy solitude wearisome, thou hast severed me, likewise, from all the warmth of life, and enticed me into thy region of unspeakable horror . . . Thou hast filled my veins with poison! Thou hast made me as hateful, as ugly, as loathsome and deadly a creature as thyself—a world's wonder of hideous monstrosity! Now—if our breath be happily as fatal to ourselves as to all others—let us join our lips in one kiss of unutterable hatred, and so die!"
.......His tirade against the young woman reveals that the real poison that befouls him lies within his heart.
.......Beatrice then assures Giovanni that she never intended to harm him. “I dreamed only to love thee,” she says, “and be with thee a little time, and so to let thee pass away, leaving but thine image in mine heart. . . But my father!—he has united us in this fearful sympathy.”
.......When Giovanni reveals Baglioni's phial as an antidote for the contaminants in their bodies, she says, “Give it to me! . . . I will drink but do thou await the result.” Her response indicates that she suspects foul play but is willing to test the antidote on herself. If it turns out to be a fatal poison, only she will die. Giovanni will live. Whether Giovanni's love for Beatrice is as strong as her love for him—or whether he even experiences love rather than infatuation—is unlikely. After all, he curses her in the belief that she willingly contaminated him, a development revealing that he lacks faith in her. His outrage suggests that his is a “fair weather” passion. When things go right, he will love her. When things go wrong, he will withhold his love. Beatrice apparently senses that his love is insincere. When she is dying, she tells him, “ Farewell, Giovanni! Thy words of hatred are like lead within my heart—but they, too, will fall away as I ascend. Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?"
.......And what of Professor Baglioni? Is he too corrupt? The evidence suggests that he is. He provides a phial of liquid that he says will restore Beatrice to normalcy. Instead, it kills her within minutes. One may argue that his purpose in providing the poison was to protect Giovanni, the son of his good friend in Naples. But other evidence suggests that his motive was a mixture of revenge and ambition. Remember, he has been competing with Rappaccini for recognition as the best physician in Italy, as he implies when he tells Giovanni, “The truth is, our worshipful Doctor Rappaccini has as much science as any member of the faculty—with perhaps one single exception . . . .” The “single exception” is of course Baglioni—or so Baglioni appears to think.
.......That Baglioni and Rappaccini are bitter rivals is well known: “[T]here was a professional warfare of long continuance between him and Doctor Rappaccini,” the narrator says, “in which the latter was generally thought to have gained the advantage. If the reader be inclined to judge for himself, we refer him to certain black-letter tracts on both sides, preserved in the medical department of the University of Padua.”
.......It is clear, then, that Baglioni and Rappaccini despise each other. To get the better of Rappaccini, Baglioni plans to poison Beatrice. He muses to himself: “This daughter of his! It shall be looked to. Perchance, most learned Rappaccini, I may foil you where you little dream of it!"
.......After Beatrice dies, Baglioni peers down from the window and, as the narrator says, “called loudly, in a tone of triumph mixed with horror, to the thunder-stricken man of science: "Rappaccini! Rappaccini! And is this the upshot of your experiment?"


Other Themes

Exceeding the Bounds of Morality


.......Rappaccini far exceeds the bounds of morality when he ruins the life of his daughter—and jeopardizes his own life—for the sake of achieving scientific breakthroughs. His fictional research foreshadows the experimentation of historical figures such as the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele. a member of the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene, founded in Nazi Germany in 1934. Mengele performed cruel experiments on live human beings in the Birkenau concentration camp, where he served as an SS officer beginning in 1943. Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death,” was attempting to further his knowledge of twins and of fertility techniques. Jewish inmates became virtual guinea pigs, enduring great pain and suffering. Here in the 21st Century scientists are experimenting with the possibility of cloning human beings, an activity which theologians generally condemn as unethical and immoral.

Love

.......Although Dr. Rappaccini corrupts the body of Beatrice, her soul remains pristine. She is a gentle young woman who treats even the highly poisonous plant in the marble vase with tenderness. After meeting Giovanni, she falls in love with him. Hers is genuine love that sets no conditions or makes no demands. When Giovanni reveals Baglioni's phial as an antidote for the contaminants in their bodies, she says, “Give it to me! . . . I will drink but do thou await the result.” Her response indicates that she suspects foul play but is willing to test the antidote on herself. If it turns out to be a fatal poison, only she will die. Giovanni will live. Whether Giovanni's love for Beatrice is as strong as her love for him—or whether he even experiences love rather than infatuation—is open to question. After all, he curses her in the belief that she willingly contaminated him, a development revealing that he lacks faith in her. His outrage suggests that his is a “fair weather” passion. When things go right, he will love her. When things go wrong, he will withhold his love. Beatrice apparently senses that his love is insincere. When she is dying, she tells him, “Farewell, Giovanni! Thy words of hatred are like lead within my heart—but they, too, will fall away as I ascend. Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?"

Hatred

.......Rappaccini and Baglioni, rivals in science, despise each other. One of the goals of Rappaccini's research is to discover medical breakthroughs that will elevate his reputation above Baglioni's. Baglioni retaliates with the phial of poison that kills Beatrice.

Isolation

.......Because her father has turned Beatrice into a poisonous agent, she remains isolated in her house and garden. Her ignorance of the world outside and her lack of contact with its inhabitants have rendered her a mere child in terms of cultural and social growth, as the following passage attests:

[Beatrice] became gay, and appeared to derive a pure delight from her communion with the [Giovanni], not unlike what the maiden of a lonely island might have felt, conversing with a voyager from the civilized world. Evidently her experience of life had been confined within the limits of that garden. She talked now about matters as simple as the day-light or summer-clouds, and now asked questions in reference to the city, or Giovanni's distant home, his friends, his mother, and his sisters; questions indicating such seclusion, and such lack of familiarity with modes and forms, that Giovanni responded as if to an infant.
Artificiality
.......Almost all the plants in Rappaccini's garden appear unnatural to Giovanni. And, he says, “Several . . . would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialness, indicating that there had been such commixture, and, as it were, adultery of various vegetable species, that the production was no longer of God's making, but the monstrous offspring of man's depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty.” The artificiality of the flowers reflects the artificiality of Giovanni's affection for Beatrice. It is insincere. It also reflects the artificiality of Dr. Rappaccini's motives in seeking breakthrough medical cures. His primary interest is not in saving lives but in enhancing his reputation and satisfying his coldly intellectual curiosity.

Exploitation

.......Dr. Rappaccini exploits Beatrice in his medical research. Giovanni exploits her for her charms; his professed love for her seems insincere. Dr. Baglioni kills Beatrice to spite Rappaccini.


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