In “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” reason and doubt lead characters astray while passion and intuition point towards truth. This is clearest in Giovanni’s wavering over whether Beatrice is good or evil: his intuition tells him that she is good and his passion urges him to love her, while his rational mind is full of doubts—doubts that ultimately poison their relationship and lead to her death. Throughout the story, each character’s relationship to love (be it earnest, doubtful, or cynical) is associated with their moral value, showing that pure, earnest love leads to happiness and genuine connection, while corrupted love leads to ruin.
Of everyone in the story, Rappaccini’s love is the most corrupt and damaging. At first, he and his only daughter seem close—she is obedient and cheerful in his presence, and he seems to trust her implicitly, as he relies on her to care for what seems to be his most precious plant. This might suggest that the two have a mutually loving and respectful relationship, but as the story progresses it becomes more complicated. Rappaccini, as it turns out, has made Beatrice into a science experiment by infusing her with poison from his poisonous plants, which has two effects that benefit Rappaccini: it confines her to the garden (since she is toxic to the outside world), which makes her his assistant for life, and it means that she can care for the plants that have become too toxic for Rappaccini himself to tend. At the end of the story, however, Rappaccini claims that he altered Beatrice’s nature out of love for her, saying that he has endowed her with “marvelous gifts,” since she is no longer vulnerable to those who might hurt her. While this motive seems less nakedly selfish than the two above, it’s also worth considering that these are “marvelous gifts” that Beatrice (who cries that she would rather have been “loved, not feared”) doesn’t want and which make her lonely and miserable. Therefore, regardless of whether Rappaccini’s claim that he did this for her sake is sincere or disingenuous (meant to conceal his more explicitly selfish motives), his actions were not loving, since he did not consider who she is and what she herself would have wanted. Rappaccini’s selfish and convenient definition of love thereby leads him to harm someone who has been faithful and loving to him.
In contrast, Beatrice’s love is wholly pure—she believes that love means prioritizing others over herself. Regardless of what her father has done to her, she remains loving towards him and she happily assists in his projects. Furthermore, with Giovanni, Beatrice is kind and open, delighting in his presence and taking care to keep him safe from her own poisons and the poisons of the garden, even though this means denying herself physical contact with the person she loves. She is selfless, then—when he accuses her of poisoning him, she claims she wouldn’t have done so for “a world of bliss.” “I dreamed only to love thee, and be with thee a little time,” she says, demonstrating that her love is not selfish or possessive, “and so to let thee pass away, leaving but thine image in mine heart.” Furthermore, even after Giovanni has betrayed her and insulted her, she drinks the antidote before him, seemingly to spare him its effects if it is poisonous (which it turns out to be). Therefore, Beatrice’s love is selfless and unflagging. In fact, once the two people she loves (her father and Giovanni) have betrayed her, she seems to prefer death to the possibility of living with a more cynical concept of love.
Giovanni’s love is not so manipulative or selfish as Rappaccini’s, but it is less pure than Beatrice’s. From the moment he sees Beatrice, he seems genuinely taken with her, noticing her beauty and her good character equally, and obsessing over her in moments when they are not together. While his intuition and his passion tell him to trust and love Beatrice, his rational mind—which observes her deleterious effects on flowers and insects—causes him to doubt his love for her. Hawthorne writes that Giovanni’s suspicions “dissolving in the pure light of her character, had no longer the efficacy of facts, but were acknowledged as mistaken fantasies, by whatever testimony of the senses they might appear to be substantiated. There is something truer and more real, than what we can see with the eyes, and touch with the finger.” Hawthorne’s writing here seems to implicitly suggest that Giovanni is foolish to cast aside his doubts in favor of his passion and intuition, but by the end of the story readers learn that Giovanni’s love was a truer guide than his reason. Had Giovanni’s love remained pure and undoubted, he and Beatrice might have been happy together, but his doubts and his vicious and accusatory outburst sour his love and ruin their lives.
All told, Hawthorne advocates following passion over reason and prioritizing pure, selfless love. Rappaccini’s love was destructive because it was manipulative and selfish, and Giovanni’s love was destructive because it was poisoned by rational doubt—between the two of them, their misguided or manipulative love leads to the death of Beatrice, the story’s purest character. Only Beatrice’s love was ultimately worthwhile, but she found nobody equal to her on earth, and so she had to ascend to heaven where she might find purer love to match her own.
Love, Passion, and Doubt ThemeTracker
Love, Passion, and Doubt Quotes in Rappaccini’s Daughter
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.
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!
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.
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?”