Study Questions for Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" [1844]

As Masri notes, Hawthorne's story is one of a few speculative fiction stories that he wrote. Hawthorne, like Melville, Poe, and other Romantic Period American authors, was interested in the effects of developing science on culture, and on the potential consequences of actions taken by a scientist who attempts to violate the laws of nature. If you develop an interest in this aspect of Hawthorne's work, you might look into "Mr. Heidegger's Experiment" and "The Birthmark," two other Hawthorne stories that investigate human nature through the implications of scientists who attempt to suspend the laws of nature. Here are a few issues to consider as you review "Rappaccini's Daughter":

  1. Why does Hawthorne invent the fiction of a tale by M. de l'Aubepine? What impact might this invention of an author other than Hawthorne have had on his readers in 19th century America? Why French?
  2. Upon first look from his balcony, Guasconti views Rappaccini's garden as an Eden in the midst of Padua. What hints appear in the opening passages that the garden is something other than an Eden?
  3. How is Rappaccini characterized early in the story--from his appearance in the garden to the comments about him by Guasconti's professor, Signor Pietro Baglioni? what thematic concerns are evoked by Baglioni's comments on 1035?
  4. What role does Signor Pietro Baglioni play in the story? What exactly is his relationship to Guasconti? To Rappaccini?
  5. What is the role of Dame Lisabetta? As you move deeper into the story, especially when Lisabetta leads Guasconti to the secret entrance to Rappaccini's garden [1040], does she become a sinister figure?
  6. At story's end, whom do you see as the evil influence in the story?What has all along been the primary conflict that has entrapped both Beatrice and Giovanni Guasconti?