Rappaccini’s Daughter


Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Rappaccini’s Daughter: Situational Irony 1 key example

Rappaccini’s Daughter
Explanation and Analysis—Dante's Beatrice:

In "Rappaccini's Daughter," the character Beatrice’s name is an allusion to the Divine Comedy, a long narrative poem by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri that follows the poet himself as he journeys through hell, purgatory, and paradise. This allusion in "Rappaccini's Daughter" adds some insight into both Giovanni's and the reader's initial uncertainty about whether Beatrice is good or evil. In the Divine Comedy, Beatrice serves as Dante's deceased love interest and guide in the final part of the Purgatorio as well as the Paradiso. In Inferno, she's the one who sends the famous ancient poet Virgil to guide Dante through hell, wanting to make sure he's protected on this leg of the journey so that he can eventually join her in heaven. She is, then, presented as the pinnacle of moral purity, grace, and femininity.

Beatrice's name initially seems ironic, given our suspicions that she is complicit in the unknown evils of Rappaccini's garden. And yet, the more we see of Beatrice, the more fitting her virtuous namesake comes to seem: she even crosses herself over the death of an insect. In this way, Beatrice's name suggests her moral purity even before the story confirms that she is not intentionally poisoning Giovanni. Ultimately, Beatrice's name, with its allusion to Dante's heavenly guide, emphasizes the irony that Giovanni could deceive himself about someone who is so obviously good rather than evil.