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Guide for Teaching "Rappaccini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

This guide to teaching "Rappaccini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne contains a summary, an analysis, and some lesson plans, not to mention an incredibly witty introduction.

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    A young teacher, named Giovanni Guasconti, came, very long ago, from the more southern region of Italy, to pursue his teaching career at the High School of Padua. Giovanni, who had but a scanty supply of gold ducats and lesson plans in his pocket, took lodgings in a high and gloomy classroom of an old school, which looked not unworthy to have been the palace of a Paduan principal, and which, in fact, exhibited over its entrance the armorial bearings of an education system long since extinct. The young teacher, who was not unstudied in the great short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, recollected that one of his stories, and perhaps the subject of this very web page, had been taught by teachers, causing immortal agonies to students. These reminiscences and associations, together with the complete overwhelming nature of teaching natural to a young teacher for the first time out of his college dorm, caused Giovanni to sigh heavily, as he looked around the desolate and ill-furnished apartment.

    "If only I were better at teaching Rappaccini's daughter," cried Giovanni. "I could get a better apartment!"

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    Summary of "Rappaccini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

    purple-flower-in-park 

    Before teaching "Rappacini's Daughter," refamiliarize yourself with the story's plot.

    Giovanni Guasconti arrives in Padua and takes up residence in an apartment overlooking a garden belonging to Signor Rappaccini. Giovanni observes Rappaccini in his garden and comments on his intent study and obvious avoidance of the plants. He then watches as Rappaccini's daughter, Beatrice, comes out, looking like and interacting with the flowers around her.

    The next day, Giovanni mentions Rappaccini's name to Signor Pietro Baglioni, who extols Rappaccini's scientific knowledge, but criticizes his character, claiming that Rappacini's love of science trumps his affection for human kind. Giovanni learns that Rappaccini specializes in creating poison from plants.

    Giovanni returns to his apartment and observes Beatrice, once again, in the garden and marvels at her increased beauty and her resemblance to the shrubs of the garden. Beatrice embraces the flowers, picks one, attempts to pin it on her dress, and accidentally lets some of the liquid drip on to a lizard, which immediately contorts and dies. Giovanni shudders. He then witnesses an insect dying from Beatrice's breath. Beatrice spots Giovanni who throws her a bouquet of healthy flowers. As Beatrice rushes inside, Giovanni thinks he sees the bouquet wither in her hands.

    A while later, a changed Giovanni encounters Pietro Baglioni on the streets. Dr. Rappaccini passes. Baglioni warns Giovanni that he is part of one of Rappaccini's experiments. Giovanni finds out from Lisabetta that there's a private entrance into Rappaccini's garden. He enters and before long encounters Beatrice. They talk. Giovanni discovers the plant at the center of the garden, the one Beatrice embraces, is fatal.

    The next morning, Giovanni feels his hand, the one touched by Beatrice, tingle. The two meet in the garden on a regular basis. Pietro arrives at Giovanni's apartment and tells a story about Alexander the Great and a girl who had been nurtured with poison and had become poisonous. Baglioni tells Giovanni that Beatrice is poison and gives him an antidote to give her. Giovanni discovers that his breath is poisonous.

    Giovanni meats Beatrice in the garden. She confesses the truth and Giovanni scolds her. He gives her the antidote as Rappaccini enters the garden, pleased that he has brought Beatrice someone who can love her. Beatrice drinks the antidote and dies. Baglioni, from Giovanni's apartment, talks trash.

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    Analysis of "Rappaccini's Daughter"

    The following points of discussion will make teaching "Rappaccini's Daughter" more beneficial.

    1. American Romanticism: The tenets of American Romanticism include the dangers of technology and a fascination with death and the supernatural. Rappaccini's unprioritized love for science and the supernatural aura surrounding Beatrice satisfy these aspects of American Romanticism.
    2. Characterization: "Rappaccini's Daughter" is a short story with no hero and no likable characters. Although we sympathize with Giovanni, his obsessive nature and unwillingness to listen to reason make him unlikeable. Beatrice endangers Giovanni's life. Rappaccini is a brilliant scientist but a lousy human. Pietro Baglioni appears to be the the voice of reason but acts treacherously to defeat his rival, as evidenced by his final comment and obvious jealousy.
    3. Allusions: References to the Garden of Eden, direct and indirect, abound.
    4. Symbolism: The poisonous plant and deteriorating statue in the center of the garden symbolize physical and moral corruption. The color purple, a hybrid color, symbolizes the mixing of ingredients and the mixing of good and evil in humans. Rappaccini's black clothing represents his diabolical nature.
    5. Setting and Mood: Hawthorne's physical descrption of the mansion and Giovanni's apartment help establish an ominous mood and foreshadows the story's tragic ending.
    6. Paradox: The controlling image of the story, the garden and Beatrice, is a paradox--a poisonous Eve and a poisonous Garden of Eden.
    7. Theme: Possible themes include the duality of human nature, the corrupting potential of science, lust, and jealousy.
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    "Rappacini's Daughter" Lesson Plans and Ideas

    Nathaniel Hawthorne 

    Teaching "Rappacini's Daughter" is easier with good "Rappaccini's Daughter" lesson plans.

    1. Many critics consider "Rappacini's Daughter" an allegory, a work in which everything is a symbol for something else. Teach allegory in "Rappaccini's Daughter" by creating a chart with objects in column 1, symbolic meaning of objects in column 2, evidence of meaning in column 3, and what the symbol adds to the overall meaning of the story in column 4. For example: write Rappaccini in column 1; The Devil in column 2; His devious nature and black attire in column 3; His presence adds a supernatural and evil nature to the story in column 4.
    2. Character ambiguity in "Rappaccini's Daughter" frustrates and delights. Adapt this interviewing characters in Romeo and Juliet lesson plan. You may also want to do a character/psychological analysis of Giovanni, Rappaccini, and Pietro.
    3. If you want to get fired, you could do a lesson on venerial disease.
    4. Use this foreshadowing and suspense lesson plan to help students identify a common literary device employed by Hawthorne.

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