A Study Guide for “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Symbols and Theme

Summary With Comments

Giovanni Guasconti arrives in Padua and takes up residence in an apartment overlooking a garden belonging to Signor Rappaccini.

Rappacini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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 (we call this stalking in modern times) 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 (Don't you hate it when you talk to a really hot chick that has bad 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 (Guys, I don't care how hot the girl is, getting a disease is not worth it).

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 (Girls who cause appendages to tingle should be avoided at all costs). 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.


Nate Hawthorne

Use this analysis to impress that special Beatrice in your life. You could also use this analysis of "Rappaccini's Daughter" to thwart the efforts of your Rappaccini-like teachers to ruin your grade.

"Rappaccini's Daughter" is typical of Hawthorne's works:

  1. it involves ambiguity, especially with Pietro Baglioni, who establishes himself as a friend of Giovanni, yet murders Beatrice in an effort to defeat his bitter scientific rival. Speaking of bitter scientific rivals, Rappaccini nurtures his daughter with a poisonous shrub, and in an attempt at mercy, allows Giovanni to become immune to the poison, creating for the two their own paradisaical existence (which undoubtedly would have turned into a living hell for both of them–stuck in the same garden with each other for eternity. I love my wife, but come on already, she'd have me castrated within six months).
  2. It involves supernatural elements. A mad scientist turns his incredibly hot daughter into a poisonous freak of nature, resembling a plant more than a human.
  3. It exposes the dangers of technology and science. Although the concept of a really hot chick or plant thing is preposterous, the realization that individuals who care more about science or bogus science more than human liberty is frightening.


Understanding these symbols will enhance your understanding of the story.

  1. The deteriorating statue in the center of the garden symbolizes corruption. Its location represents the center of human goodness and feeling, the heart. The presence of the statue in the middle of the garden symbolizes the corrupting influence man and science has had on nature.
  2. The poisonous plant from which Beatrice imbibes life symbolizes the corrupting force of nature on humans.
  3. The garden itself is referred to as the Garden of Eden, yet paradoxically contains only poisonous plants and a poisonous Eve. Instead of God reigning in the garden there's the satanic Rappaccini.
  4. Rappaccini and his black garb symbolizes the devil.
  5. Beatrice symbolizes feminine beauty, a beauty worth dying for.


Mad Scientist

  1. Love vs. Lust – It doesn't take a teenager to figure out why Giovanni is attracted to Beatrice. Why else would a young man obsess over a girl with whom he's never spoken, kills living things with her breath, and has a mad scientist father who cares less for human life than he does his science experiments. Giovanni isn't the first or last young man to catch a disease after associating with a poisonous woman.
  2. Individual vs. Society American Romantics, Hawthorne being a prominent one, celebrated the individual. The question Hawthorne addresses is does science have the right to sacrifice an individual for the betterment of society? Hawthorne recognizes the dangers of giving humans–be they scientists or not–power they are not intended to have.
  3. The Dangers of Science – Hawthorne demonstrates what happens when science attempts to solve societal problems by sacrificing individuals. Neither Baglioni nor Rappaccini have their subjects' best interest in mind when they use them as part of their experiments.
  4. Nature vs. Nurture – The poisonous shrubs in Rappaccini's garden are created from a mixture of good and bad herbs, symbolic of the good and bad that exists in all (note: the flowers are purple, a hybrid color). Her father's decision to nurture her with poison make her posionous.

This post is part of the series: Study Guide for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories are rich in meaning. Understand them better with these study guides.
  1. Symbolism in Young Goodman Brown
  2. "Young Goodman Brown" Study Guide
  3. "Rappaccini's Daughter" Study Guide
  4. Study Guide for "The Minister's Black Veil"