Hawthorne twice compares Rappaccini’s garden to Eden, calling to mind the Biblical story of man’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. In that story, Adam and Eve live in a utopian garden and God’s only rule for them is not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Unfortunately, they eat the fruit, and God makes them mortal and banishes them from Eden. Hawthorne’s story parallels this Bible story, as Beatrice and Rappaccini tend a vibrant and isolated garden, and it is Rappaccini’s thirst for knowledge that leads to his and Beatrice’s downfall. Like the Biblical story, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” warns readers of the dangers of ruthlessly pursuing knowledge, and it additionally warns about the foolishness of playing God by trying to interfere in the world’s natural order.
Hawthorne explicitly sets up the parallel between Rappaccini’s garden and the Garden of Eden from the very beginning of the story. As Giovanni sees Rappaccini tending his plants for the first time, he notices that Rappaccini moves among the plants with great caution, as though “walking among malignant influences, such as savage beasts, or deadly snakes, or evil spirits.” Rappaccini’s “air of insecurity” troubles Giovanni, because gardening is such an “innocent” pastime—especially since it was the occupation of the “unfallen parents of the race” (Adam and Eve). In this light, Giovanni asks himself with dread whether he is looking at the “Eden of the present world” and whether this sinister man Rappaccini, who seems to be growing poisonous plants, could possibly be Adam.
The obvious divergence between the Garden of Eden and Rappaccini’s garden is that Rappaccini’s garden is already corrupted—it is poisonous and sinister, whereas Eden was pure. However, despite that Rappaccini’s garden is already corrupted, further danger still lurks within it: like in the Garden of Eden, Hawthorne suggests that Rappaccini’s garden tempts people towards sinful pursuit of knowledge. With Eve, the serpent convinced her to pursue knowledge, but Rappaccini seems to have an inherent thirst to learn the secrets of nature: “He would sacrifice human life,” Baglioni says, “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.” This quote explicitly associates Rappaccini’s quest for knowledge with evil and inhumanity, insinuating that his garden—a creation of scientific knowledge—is evil and harmful to mankind.
Rappaccini’s quest for knowledge is inextricable from his desire to interfere in the natural order of the world. After all, his experiments involve creating hybrid plants not found in nature and testing their (sometimes helpful and sometimes toxic) effects on humans. Hawthorne explicitly condemns Rappaccini for the hubris of wanting to alter nature, and nowhere is this clearer than in his effect on Beatrice. As readers learn towards the end of the story, Rappaccini has interfered in Beatrice’s nature by infusing her with poisons from his garden, making her something of a hybrid, scientifically-produced creature just like the plants themselves. While Rappaccini claims that he altered her nature out of love (giving her defenses against those who might harm her), his motivation was likely selfish: due to her poison, she can safely tend the plants that Rappaccini himself cannot touch, making her an essential accessory to gaining further scientific knowledge. By interfering with Beatrice in pursuit of knowledge, however, Rappaccini causes her great harm. Beatrice’s poisonous nature isolates her from others, leaving her lonely and subject to the gossip and suspicions of others. Accusatorily, she tells her father she would rather be “loved, not feared.” Rappaccini’s condemnation of Beatrice indirectly leads to her death, which shows the tremendous cost of altering nature in pursuit of knowledge.
Overall, Hawthorne’s parallel between Rappaccini’s garden and the Garden of Eden is not simply suggesting that humans are sinful—that lesson is as old as time. What Hawthorne adds is that humans are still just as sinful as they ever were, and still making the same mistake of pursuing knowledge for its own sake and interfering with the world’s natural order. When Giovanni sees the coat of arms belonging to a family whose ancestor Dante depicted suffering the “immortal agonies of his Inferno,” it reminds readers that sin is ancient and its consequences are unimaginably severe. To avoid such punishment, Hawthorne suggests, one must be careful not to lose sight of humanity and morality when pursuing knowledge, and one must respect the natural order of the world, lest you bring harm to others by changing it.
Knowledge and Sin ThemeTracker
Knowledge and Sin 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?
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.”
“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 is not yet too late for the rescue. Possibly we may even succeed in bringing back this miserable child within the limits of ordinary nature, from which her father’s madness has estranged her.
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!”
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.