In Rappaccini’s Daughter, Nathaniel Hawthorne examines the combination of good and evil in
people through the relationships of the story’s main characters. The lovely and yet poisonous Beatrice, the
daughter of the scientist Rappaccini, is the central figure of the story, while her neighbor Giovanni becomes the observer, participant, and interpreter of the strange events that transpire within the garden next door. It is Giovanni’s inability to understand these events that eventually leads to Beatrice’s death.
Giovanni sees things that are either all good or all bad. While he is quick to judge Beatrice, he is unable to examine his own motives and thoughts. During the story, Hawthorne gives the reader many clues of Giovanni’s selfish and fickle nature. In the end, Beatrice dies because of Giovanni and his own poisonous nature.
The moral of the story is that every persons character is both good and evil in nature. Nathaniel Hawthorne uses Giovanni and Beatrice to explore the impossibility of totally separating good and evil from the human character.
At the beginning of the story, a young man named Giovanni Guasconti is introduced to the readers as a typical homesick student from Southern Italy. He is at once attracted to the beautiful garden next door belonging to the mysterious scientist, Dr.
Rappaccini. Not only is he fascinated by the scientist and his garden, but he is instantly enchanted by Rappaccini’s beautiful daughter, Beatrice. The second time Giovanni sees Beatrice from his window overlooking the garden, he notices several unusual things. First, he believes that he sees a lizard die suddenly at Beatrice’s feet.
Then a swarm of insects appear to die from her breath, and finally, the flowers that he gives to her seem to wither from her touch. However, Hawthorne is careful to never fully confirm what Giovanni sees. Hawthorne frequently uses words like imagine, seemed, or appeared to to cast a doubt upon the validity of what Giovanni thinks he sees. Even Giovanni himself rationalizes the situation and convinces himself that what he thought he saw did not happen.
This is because in Giovanni’s mind, it is impossible to separate the physical from the spiritual. For him, if Beatrice’s body is poisonous, then so is her spirit. Giovanni is unable to see the possibilities for good and bad to be simultaneously within someone. This problem is at the heart of this story and is what ultimately causes Beatrice’s death.
Since Giovanni allows himself to disbelieve what he had seen earlier in the garden, he is able to fall for Beatrice. Giovanni is drawn to Beatrice not because of the glamor of science, but an interest in the unknown. He knows that all is not right in Rappaccini’s garden and he is fascinated with the mystery. As Giovanni and Beatrice get to know each other, they develop a strong bond.
However, for Giovanni this is not true love. Hawthorne provides the reader with clues that question the integrity of Giovanni. For example, Hawthorne writes, Guasconti had not a deep heart or at all events, its depths are not sounded now-but he had a quick fancy, and an ardent southern temperament, which rose every instant to higher fever-pitch (Hawthorne 614). Not only is Giovanni passionate in his lust for Beatrice, but he also idealizes her as an angel.
While he finds her to be maiden-like, he also considers her worthy to be worshipped (Hawthorne 619). Occasionally, Giovanni’s doubts come forth, And at such times, he was startled at the horrible suspicions that rose, monster-like, out of the caverns of his heart, and stared him in the face; his love grew thin and faint as the morning-mist; his doubts alone had substance (Hawthorne 620). But always, Giovanni is able to squash these doubts and he convinces himself of Beatrice’s purity. He is able to do this because otherwise he could not be with her.
Giovanni does not see the possibility that there can be both good and evil within someone. For him, he thinks that someone is either all good or all bad. Even after Dr. Baglioni’s revelation about Beatrice, Giovanni tries not to see the possibilities of Beatrice being poisonous.
It is only when he realizes that now he too is poisonous that he truly allows himself to believe. Because of this, he becomes insanely angry, as if he is the only one wronged, and ventures forth to confront Beatrice. The woman that he before worshipped, he now calls Accursed one! (Hawthorne 624). Now, he is repulsed by Beatrice and loathes her.
Giovanni hurts Beatrice deeply with his accusations and stinging words. However, through Baglioni’s antidote he sees a possible way to cure them both. Beatrice takes the potion, urging Giovanni to wait and see what happens to her. At this point Beatrice dies because the poison in her body is too strong and the antidote causes her death.
As she dies she says to 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 (Hawthorne 626). Giovanni is a normal, but selfish student who is drawn into the Rappaccinis’ lives. He is unable to separate Beatrice’s good and sweet spirit from her poisonous body.
He does not comprehend the possibility of an intermixture of good and evil within people. Once he finds out that she is indeed poisonous, he hates her. However, it is Giovanni in the end that is poisonous with his cruel words and the potion that he gives to Beatrice. In fact, although inadvertently, it is Giovanni who kills Beatrice by trying to change her nature with his antidote.
The short story’s title, Rappaccini’s Daughter immediately tells the reader that the focus of the story is upon Beatrice even though she is not introduced to the reader for a couple pages. The first introduction to Beatrice teaches the reader that she is very beautiful and she is the caretaker to the poisonous plants in her father’s garden. As Giovanni learns, she knows little of the outside world for she has been raised almost exclusively within the garden. She appears to Giovanni, as well as to the reader, to be a gentle and innocent young woman.
She even admits to Giovanni that the poisonous flowers in her father’s garden shock and offend her, when they meet her eye (Hawthorne 617). She honestly tells Giovanni about her poisonous nature when he confronts her; however, she seems to be truly unaware of her presence’s poisonous affect on Giovanni. She is also astonished by Giovanni’s hurtful confrontation. Beatrice tells Giovanni, though my body be nourished with poison, my spirit is God’s creature, and craves love as its daily food (Hawthorne 625).
If she is evil, it is only because she was made that way. Her heart is pure. So in the end, the beautiful and innocent Beatrice is betrayed by the man she loved, Giovanni. For Giovanni betrays Beatrice because he thought she was evil, and truly Beatrice is the one who demonstrates to have true love.
Beatrice proves to be very human, but with a poisonous body and a loving soul.
At the beginning of the story, Giovanni is a normal person. However, he is inadvertently tempted by the beauty and sweetness of Beatrice and becomes poisonous. His own dark side is awakened by the encounter with the Rappaccinis and no one is left unscathed.
Like all people, he is not completely good or bad, but a combination of the two. Some people are mostly good, some are mostly bad, but no one is only good or evil.