In “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” Hawthorne presents the full spectrum of human morality: Rappaccini seems pure evil, Beatrice seems pure good, and Giovanni and Baglioni have conflicted intentions. As Giovanni, Baglioni, and Rappaccini all try to manipulate Beatrice to serve their own ends, it becomes clear that Beatrice’s naïve goodness cannot prevail in a world whose morality is inferior to hers. She dies as a result of the other characters’ immorality, showing that morality as pure as Beatrice’s cannot exist in our corrupted world.
Hawthorne offers Beatrice as the story’s example of good morality, an embodiment of pure goodness. This is immediately clear in Beatrice’s name, which is an allusion to Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which a woman named Beatrice guides the main character through the various realms of Heaven. Beatrice’s good morals are further apparent in her appearance—in addition to being beautiful, she exudes “simplicity and sweetness” and “tenderness,” she is like “the light of truth itself,” and she is a “simple, natural, most affectionate and guileless creature.” Her behavior supports these characterizations, as she is kind and tender when caring for the plants, she crosses herself whenever an insect dies in her presence (showing her concern for others, even vermin), and—most important—she takes scrupulous care to protect Giovanni from her own poisons and that of the plants, meaning that she denies herself physical contact with the man she loves for his own benefit. Beatrice’s virtues are clearest in this selfless denial of what she most wants and her acceptance that one day she must allow Giovanni to move on from her.
By contrast, Beatrice’s father Rappaccini is the story’s embodiment of evil. From the first time he appears in the garden, the reader sees that something about him is not right—for one, he is “emaciated, sallow, and sickly-looking.” Furthermore, unlike Beatrice’s “expression of simplicity and sweetness,” Rappaccini’s face “could never, even in his more youthful days, have expressed much warmth of heart.” Rappaccini’s reputation aligns with his sinister physical presence. Baglioni paints him as a man who would “sacrifice human life, his own among the rest, or whatever else was dearest to him, for the sake of adding so much as a grain of mustard seed to the great heap of his accumulated knowledge.” And, in fact, he does just that by sacrificing Beatrice’s happiness to make her into one of his experiments, leaving her lonely and feared because her body is poisonous to others. Rappaccini seems to have no redeeming qualities; he is selfish, manipulative, arrogant, and inhumane.
While Beatrice and Rappaccini represent extremes of human morality, Giovanni and Baglioni are regular people: their actions and intentions are sometimes good and sometimes bad, and are most often they are an inextricable blend of the two. Giovanni, for example, is a young medical student who seems at first to be motivated by his desire to heal others and by his love for Beatrice. However, his ill-founded doubts as to her goodness lead him to falsely suspect her of betraying him, which makes him ultimately betray her, breaking her heart and leading to her death. Sometimes, Giovanni’s actions reflect an earnest desire to trust Beatrice, such as when he begs Baglioni not to speak ill of Beatrice (saying that Baglioni cannot “estimate the wrong—the blasphemy, I may even say—that is offered to her character by a light or injurious word”). Despite this protectiveness, Giovanni succumbs to his own doubts and selfishness, accusing Beatrice to her face of being evil and “accursed,” since he believes that she has made him poisonous (“as hateful, as ugly, as loathsome and deadly a creature as thyself—a world's wonder of hideous monstrosity!”). His inability to trust in Beatrice’s goodness leads him to a depraved and misguided tantrum that irrevocably harms her. As Beatrice dies, she says, “Thy words of hatred are like lead within my heart—but they, too, will fall away as I ascend,” suggesting that Giovanni has harmed Beatrice so profoundly that her only escape is to die.
Likewise, Baglioni’s actions and motives are sometimes good and sometimes bad, but his net effect in the story is harmful. At first, he seems to be a kind older man. He is a friend of Giovanni’s father (whose character has therefore been vouched for), and he takes Giovanni under his wing in a new city, feeding him dinner and warning him against his new neighbor Rappaccini’s bad intentions and reputation. While Baglioni’s motives here seem at first to be wholly protective, the narrator mentions casually that Giovanni might have taken Baglioni’s warnings with “many grains of allowance” had he known that Baglioni and Rappacini were professional rivals. The troubling implication here is that Baglioni might be disparaging Rappaccini out of professional jealousy, not concern for Giovanni. As the story progresses, both of these motives seem simultaneously true: Baglioni has good intentions in his desire to protect Giovanni from Rappaccini (who proves a real threat, just as Baglioni warned), and he has bad intentions in that he wants to use Giovanni’s proximity to Rappaccini to foil Rappaccini’s scientific success. This is clearest in the antidote that Baglioni gives to Giovanni for Beatrice. Baglioni seems to simultaneously want to return Beatrice to her natural state (thereby benefitting both Beatrice and Giovanni) and to want to ruin Rapapccini’s experiment (as he says to himself after he gives Giovanni the potion). When Beatrice dies, Baglioni reacts with “triumph mixed with horror”—he has killed Beatrice but succeeded in ruining his rival’s experiment. His final taunt to Rappaccini about his failed experiment (and dead daughter) suggests that perhaps Baglioni’s bad nature has outweighed the good.
Throughout the story, all of the characters succumb to their bad intentions except for Beatrice, which results in her (as the story’s only good character) dying. This seems almost inevitable when considering that Beatrice was not a creature of the broader world; her existence has always been “confined within the limits of that garden,” and once she came into contact with the corruption of the broader world, that corruption killed her. Beatrice’s death, coupled with Baglioni and Giovanni’s succumbing to their worst natures, suggests that evil will prevail over good in this world.
Good, Evil, and Morality ThemeTracker
Good, Evil, and Morality Quotes in Rappaccini’s Daughter
It was strangely frightful to the young man’s imagination to see this air of insecurity in a person cultivating a garden, that most simple and innocent of human toils, and which had been alike the joy and labor of the unfallen parents of the race. Was this garden, then, the Eden of the present world? And this man, with such a perception of harm in what his own hands caused to grow,—was he the Adam?
Yes, my sister, my splendor, it shall be Beatrice’s task to nurse and serve thee; and thou shalt reward her with thy kisses and perfumed breath, which to her is as the breath of life.
Giovanni knew not what to dread; still less did he know what to hope; yet hope and dread kept a continual warfare in his breast, alternately vanquishing one another and starting up afresh to renew the contest. Blessed are all simple emotions, be they dark or bright! It is the lurid intermixture of the two that produces the illuminating blaze of the infernal regions.
For some purpose or other, this man of science is making a study of you. I know that look of his! It is the same that coldly illuminates his face as he bends over a bird, a mouse, or a butterfly, which, in pursuance of some experiment, he has killed by the perfume of a flower; a look as deep as Nature itself, but without Nature’s warmth of love. Signor Giovanni, I will stake my life upon it, you are the subject of one of Rappaccini’s experiments!
“I do so bid you, signor,” she replied. “Forget whatever you may have fancied in regard to me. If true to the outward senses, still it may be false in its essence; but the words of Beatrice Rappaccini’s lips are true from the depths of the heart outward. Those you may believe.”
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. But, when Beatrice’s face brightened again after the momentary shadow, she was transformed at once from the mysterious, questionable being whom he had watched with so much awe and horror; she was now the beautiful and unsophisticated girl whom he felt that his spirit knew with a certainty beyond all other knowledge.
“I have been reading an old classic author lately,” said he, “and met with a story that strangely interested me. Possibly you may remember it. It is of an Indian prince, who sent a beautiful woman as a present to Alexander the Great. She was as lovely as the dawn and gorgeous as the sunset; but what especially distinguished her was a certain rich perfume in her breath—richer than a garden of Persian roses. Alexander, as was natural to a youthful conqueror, fell in love at first sight with this magnificent stranger; but a certain sage physician, happening to be present, discovered a terrible secret in regard to her.”
It was now the customary hour of his daily interview with Beatrice. Before descending into the garden, Giovanni failed not to look at his figure in the mirror,—a vanity to be expected in a beautiful young man, yet, as displaying itself at that troubled and feverish moment, the token of a certain shallowness of feeling and insincerity of character. He did gaze, however, and said to himself that his features had never before possessed so rich a grace, nor his eyes such vivacity, nor his cheeks so warm a hue of superabundant life.
Incapable as he was of such high faith, still her presence had not utterly lost its magic. Giovanni’s rage was quelled into an aspect of sullen insensibility. Beatrice, with a quick spiritual sense, immediately felt that there was a gulf of blackness between them which neither he nor she could pass.
“Yes, poisonous thing!” repeated Giovanni, beside himself with passion. “Thou hast done it! Thou hast blasted me! 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!”
Ought not, then the desert of humanity around them to press this insulated pair closer together? If they should be cruel to one another, who was there to be kind to them? Besides, thought Giovanni, might there not still be a hope of his returning within the limits of ordinary nature, and leading Beatrice, the redeemed Beatrice, by the hand? O, weak, and selfish, and unworthy spirit, that could dream of an earthly union and earthy happiness as possible, after such deep love had been so bitterly wronged as was Beatrice’s love by Giovanni’s blighting words! No, no; there could be no such hope. She must pass heavily, with that broken heart, across the borders of Time—she must bathe her hurts in some fount of paradise, and forget her grief in the light of immortality, and there be well.
As he drew near, the pale man of sciences seemed to gaze with a triumphant expression at the beautiful youth and maiden, as might an artist who should spend his life in achieving a picture or a group of statuary and finally be satisfied with his success. He paused; his bent form grew erect with conscious power; he spread out his hands over them in the attitude of a father imploring a blessing upon his children; but those were the same hands that had thrown poison into the stream of their lives. Giovanni trembled. Beatrice shuddered nervously, and pressed her hand upon her heart.
“I would fain have been loved, not feared,” murmured Beatrice, sinking down upon the ground. “But now it matters not. I am going, father, where the evil which thou hast striven to mingle with my being will pass away like a dream—like the fragrance of these poisonous flowers, which will no longer taint my breath among the flowers of Eden. 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?”
Just at that moment Professor Pietro Baglioni looked forth from the window, and 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!”