Who Done It- Rappaccini or God?

24 May



Initial Letter of Genesis, The Wenceslas Bible c. 1389


  In attempting to examine a father’s love Hawthorne uses Biblical analogy to compare and contrast the intermingling themes of “Genesis” with his own work “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” There is no malice aforethought within either story, simply an unintended consequence of short-sighted beneficence that once initiated is unpreventable.

               Both fathers want the best for their offspring despite the questionable conditions to which they are subjected. Beatrice grows to maturity within the confines of the poisonous garden and so is ignorant of the outside world. For her the garden holds no danger, unlike Rappaccini who must protect himself from his own creation and use his daughter to perform certain tasks. He is aware of the perils – dressing in protective clothing – and therefore unlikely to jeopardize his daughter. He creates for his child an immured Eden, a walled paradise where no harm can befall her. It is the interaction of exterior forces beyond his control that cause Paradise to fall rather than Rapaccinni’s own negligence.

               Could he have perceived of what would happen, and if so does that make him responsible? These are questions which Hawthorne deliberately leaves unanswered. By drawing comparisons with “Genesis” and God’s creation of man he causes the reader to not only formulate a personal conclusion but to question that which they may hold to be true; a literary test of faith perhaps?

               Adam is created and given the freedom of an earthly paradise – not unlike Beatrice in her garden – where he is free to live and roam in safety. It’s for the love of his creation that God creates woman, and therefore unwittingly – although perhaps with forethought being that he is God and not an Italian scientist – brings about the destruction of his own child. Despite creating all things necessary to enhance the life of Adam, it is the one thing the garden lacks that eventually destroys it.

               Hawthorn marries the “Genesis” story with his own but rather than ascribing direct relations with any one character, he creates a mélange in which different traits can be found in different people. God, to some degree, is recognizable in all of the characters, just as Beatrice is recognizable in Adam. Hawthorne deliberately takes a well-worn myth and applies it in a modern context where the mistakes and faults of man can be examined alongside those of original sin. Although not deliberately pointing the figure at any of his characters, it is left to the reader to employ Biblical association in defining who is guilty and of what crime. Likewise in “Genesis” it is the ambiguity of misconduct that causes one to question the complicity of Eve or the faithlessness of Adam. Hawthorne by using “Genesis” to color his own story strengthens what in essence is a morality tale if not a Christian “who-done-it.”


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