Monday, April 23, 2012

The Fatal Consequences of Obsessive Love in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter"

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Rappaccinis Daughter is generally regarded as one of Hawthornes best stories (Adams 171). The story centers around a young man who innocently falls in love with a poisoned girl. The girls father, a typical Hawthorne character, is an obssessive scientist who puts his work above all. Snipes states that Hawthorne is known for suggesting that the scientist in his intellectual pride might destroy the natural blessings that God has provided (188). Although the scientist and his malice serves as a basis for the storys theme, Giovannis love for Beatrice is a more significant theme. It suggests that when infatuated by love, ones perception of good and evil can become distorted, if not fatal.

The plot of Rappaccinis Daughter centers on a young mans forbidden love for a poisonous scientists daughter. The story begins with the protagonist, Giovanni Guasconti, moving to Padua to attend the university. His room had a window that overlooked a beautiful ancient garden. One day, while looking at the garden, Giovanni noticed an old man dressed in black, Dr. Rappaccini, who avoided getting too close to the flowers or inhaling their scents. He immediately called his daughter Beatrice to help him with a poisonous flower. Beatrice held the flower close to her chest and called it sister; she referred to its perfume as the breath of life. Instantly, Giovanni was struck by Beatrices beauty.

Eager to learn more about Rappacini and his daughter, Giovanni talks to Professor Baglioni, a friend of his father. The professor told Giovanni that the flowers in the garden were poisonous, and alerted him that Rappaccini is a man of pure science and would sacrafice anything for an experiment. Out of curiosity, Giovanni continuously watched Beatrice from his rooms window. He observed several unhumanly behaviors expressed by Beatrice. Giovanni saw Beatrice breathe on a fly and kill it. Also, the protagonist gave Beatrice a bouquet of flowers and watched it die in her hands. Moreover, Giovanni witnessed a lizards death in the garden by a drop of poison from a flower.

Even though Baglioni warned Giovanni that he may be part of Rappaccinis next experiment, Giovanni disregarded Baglionis warnings and entered the garden to personally meet Beatrice. The protagonist and Beatrice walked and talked in the garden, as Giovanny hopelessly fell in love with Beatrice. As they walked through the garden, Beatrice pulled Giovanny back from touching a flower, insisting that it would kill him, and rushed out of the garden. The next day, the protagonists hand was burned where Beatrice had touched him. Regardless, Giovanni began to eat and sleep his love for Beatrice.

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As days passed, Baglioni tried to sway Giovanni away from the garden and Beatrice, and gave him a poison antidote to give to Beatrice so that she could live as a normal person. Right away, Giovanni noticed that his breath was deadly and his touch poisonous. He confronted Beatrice and she denied having a knowing part in her fathers scheme of turning Giovanni into Beatrice. As a solution, the protagonist proposes that they both take the antidote. Beatrice agreed and demanded to take the antidote first. The antidote killed her instantly. From Giovannis window, Baglioni yelled down to his rival Rappaccini, Rappaccini! Rappaccini! and is this the upshot of your experiment? (0).

Throughout the story, Giovanni Guasconti is portrayed as a complex character confused with love. Giovanni is good looking, but also very naive and shallow. He rapidly fell in love with Beatrice and was blinded by love. In addition, the protagonist disregarded Baglionis warnings about Beatrice and Rappaccini, and followed his own intuitions. Giovanni was very persistant in getting to know Beatrice, and once he does, he discovers that he is confused. According to Roger, Giovanni believes that poison corresponds to evil and that health and beauty correspond to goodness, so when Beatrice appears to be poisonous he is bewildered by the disjunction between her apparent health and beauty and her apparently poisonous nature (65). Eventually, he was so overtaken by Beatrices beauty, that it caused him to disregard her poisonous nature. This proves the protagonists inability to distinguish good from evil.

In Rappaccinis Daughter, Giovanni is faced with three antagonists. First, Giovanni is challenged by an innocent but poisonous girl, Beatrice. Her outside beauty overshadows her poisonous nature. She presents a challenge for Giovanni. Her attractiveness and innocent nature persuades Giovanni into disregarding Baglionis warnings about her. Beatrice has no intentions of poisoning Giovanni, but due to her poisonous nature, she does so unknowingly. She presents Giovanni with the conflict of choosing between his own goodwill, and his love for her. Dauber notes that Giovanni is incapable of accepting the fact that Beatrice offers both sin and eventual redemption (6).

Moreover, Baglioni and Rappaccini are antagonists who use Giovanni as a subject for their long term competitiviness. They have been rivals for years. Baglioni tries to warn Giovanni about Rappaccini and his daughter. Baglioni is doing so intentionally as to prevent Rappaccinis usage of Giovanni in his upcoming experiment. In a sense, Baglioni is of good nature for he is trying to prevent Giovanni from becoming poisonous. In contrast, the professors interest in giving Giovanni the antidote is to terminate Rappaccinis experiment and to eliminate any competition Beatrice might bring upon him in the future. Baglioni is using this opportunity to kill Beatrice for the sake of his career, and not others. Meanwhile, Rappaccinis character is more concerned with his experiment than anything else. He makes his own daughter poisonous and shows no remorse for his wrongdoing. Rappaccini thinks of people as subjects for his experiments. Giovanni is just another subject enhancing Rappaccinis experiment. By creating his own daughter poisonous, Rappaccini is viewed as a character who feels no sympathy for his own daughter and is not concerned with her or others well being. Therefore, Rappaccini is nothing but a malignant scientist attempting to play god of his garden.

Next, the conflict of this story is developed through two key scenes. First, when Giovanni is shown the secret entrance to the garden, the conflict of the story starts to develop. As he hesitates for a second before entering the garden, shows the internal conflict he has about persuing his infatuation for Beatrice or Baglionis advices. He is unsure on whether to trust his heart or Baglioni. The protagonist is so overtaken by Beatrices innocense and beauty, that he enters the garden immediately. Second, when Giovanni first realizes that his hand was burned where Beatrice had touched him also contributes to developing the storys conflict. Giovanni starts to realize how Beatrice may be evil, but at the same time he is deeply in love with her. The protagonist notices how he has never truly touched Beatrice whenever he has seen her. Everytime they see each other, they speak of their love for one another, but never physically express their feelings. There is a doubt in the back of Giovannis mind about Beatrices good nature, but his love for her is so much greater that it overshadows his doubts.

By not following Baglionis advices, Giovanni eventually becomes poisoned by Beatrice. He becomes part of Rappaccinis experiment and finally realizes that Beatrice is poisonous. As the climax of the story approaches, Baglioni gives Giovanni the antidote in which he must give to Beatrice in order to make her unpoisoned and normal. The protagonist believes that this antidote will allow for them to be together as lovers, but instead it kills her. Giovanni will eternally be alone in the garden, forbidden of touching or being touched by others. As Rappaccini had planned, Giovanni became Beatrice. This story is an all around tragedy for everyone involved. Baglioni blamed his own enemy Rappaccini for the outcome, when the one who should have been blamed was himself. The professor planned the outcome. Beatrice played her part in willingly drinking the antidote and Giovanny played his part by giving it to her. Perhaps the true vilain of the story is Baglioni.

Through the use of foreshadowing, imagery, and symbolism, Hawthorne invites the readers interest on the story and its events. Foreshadowing is used several times in the story by Hawthorne. Baglionis warnings to Giovanni about him becoming poisoned and a part of Rappaccinis experiment foreshadows Giovanni turning into Beatrice. In addition, the incident of Beatrice killing a fly with her breath foreshadows the protagonist later beeing able to do the same. Moreover, descriptive imagery was used throughout the story in the description of the garden, and Beatrice. Hawthorne describes a shrub set in a marble vase in the midst of the pool, that bore a profusion of purple blossoms, each of which had the lustre and richness of a gem; and the whole together made a show so resplendent that it seemed enough to illuminate the garden(18). This description allows for the reader to vividly picture the heavenly garden.

Symbolism was also used to keep the readers interest in the story. Beatrice is a symbol for Eve in the Garden of Eden, and Giovanni is Adam. Since Rappaccini created them both, he is God. Because Beatrice is poisonous, and her touch deadly, she also represents death. In contrast, Beatrice also represents life. To others she is death, but she herself is full of life. The villains, Rappacini and Baglioni, each represent evil dominating over good. They are both manipulating the good Giovanni and the innocent Beatrice.

Giovanni and Beatrices unforbidden love lead to her death and a miserable life for Giovanni. He is unable to distinguish good from evil and as a result, his lover dies. The protagonist and Beatrice were never able to fully express their emotions through physical touch. Perhaps in the future, Giovanni and Beatrice will meet in the heavens above since they were both innocent and a product of the rivalry of two malignant scientists.

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