3+ of 5 stars to Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” many characters suffer from moral ambiguity. Thus, readers of this story often have a hard time discerning which characters are “good” and which ones are “evil.” Hawthorne specifically creates these twists in his masterpiece “Rappaccini’s Daughter” to provide his readers with mysterious, dramatic, and multi-dimensional characters who are never strictly good or solely evil. When characters are strictly one-sided, readers automatically feel hatred or love for the characters, and the story’s plot becomes predictable.
If the plot of a story becomes predictable, then the entire story becomes dull and flat. This predictability occurs as a result of characters with one-sided and insipid personalities. Eventually, readers know exactly what to expect, and are not happy when there are no big surprises or sneaky twists. However, when an author creates characters who have both good and evil qualities, (s)he produces a mind-blowing story in which there is no predicting what the characters will do or how the story will end. For example, in “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” Baglioni says and does many different things that send chills up the readers’ spines. Although Baglioni is gentle and kind when he gives an antidote to Giovanni, he is not completely innocent. He has an extreme hatred for Beatrice and her father Rappaccini. Baglioni feels that the two garden dwellers are extremely corrupt people who are only in Padua to destroy the society. When Hawthorne creates these two sides to Baglioni, making him a pivotal part of the action, he shows that almost anything could happen in the story. It isn’t as if Baglioni is simply a kind old man who would do anything for his fellow man; Baglioni could do anything from breaking into a murderous outrage to leaving Giovanni suffer the consequences for pursuing Beatrice without the knowledge of who she is really. However, readers are thrown a very unpredictable ending where Baglioni is concerned. After his antidote has killed Beatrice, Baglioni shouts out “in a tone of triumph mixed with horror,” which shows that he feels both victorious over the supposedly evil Rappaccini and scared that he has killed a woman. This ending raises many questions: Did Baglioni purposely try to end the curse by killing Beatrice? Was his antidote an accidental death for the poor woman? Was it a combination of both fear and hope in Baglioni’s mind? The turbulent description of Baglioni leaves the readers wondering who he really is, which in turn, makes the readers then wonder how the story will end. There is no foreshadowing in the story about Baglioni being the one to give the antidote to Beatrice, either saving her or killing her. The shady areas of his character help give the plot an aura of mystery so that the story is unpredictable. Hawthorne purposely intends to challenge the readers as to which characters are good and which are evil so that he can hold their attention, keep them guessing and keep them thirsting for more.
When Hawthorne challenges his readers about the characters’ virtues, he takes advantage of the opportunity to give the characters multi-faceted layers, thus creating more than one-side to their views on good and evil. However, with one-dimensional personalities, characters tend to do the same thing all the time. If they are totally evil, then the readers most likely hate the characters. On the other hand, the characters can also be extremely “good,” which annoys readers. Readers don’t particularly care for goody-two-shoes. Also, when a character thinks on the same track all the time, readers might begin to like that character and only root for him/her, all the while missing the point of the story. In “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” the characters of Rappaccini and Beatrice both trouble the audience. No one is one hundred percent positive of either of their innocence or their deception. As a result, readers are enthralled by the story, constantly in wonder as to whether Rappaccini planned the whole poisonous game. Also, Beatrice seems to have a shady side in which she is either in on the game or completely oblivious to it. “Hawthorne’s wife asked him how it would end, whether Beatrice was to be a demon or an angel? Hawthorne replies, with some emotion, ‘I have no idea!” (Mack 97). Even Hawthorne wasn’t sure until the end how he wanted the characters to turn out. In the end, one never knows. It’s up to an individual’s interpretation of “good” and “evil.”
When it comes to distinguishing between “good” and “evil” among the characters in Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” readers have difficulty. Hawthorne uses Beatrice, Baglioni, and Rappaccini to show how multi-faceted characters create suspenseful, dramatic, and enigmatic story. When a character is totally one-dimensional, readers often dislike them and the plot is unpredictable. Rita K. Gollin, a noted scholar, sums it up best by telling all Hawthorne readers that “he makes [his audience] probe beneath surface appearances and permits no simplistic judgments: characters are not simply good or bad but mixed. [Readers need to] evaluate them in terms of their interfusion of mind, heart, and imagination, and what they nurture or destroy” (Lauter 2115).
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