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Learning Activities Related to Hawthorne and Women for "Rappaccini's Daughter"

Explore Activities Related to "Rappaccini's Daughter"

<I>Beata Beatrix</I> by D.G. Rossetti
Beata Beatrix by D.G. Rossetti (courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London)

1. As Richard Millington suggests in his critical commentary, the story "Rappaccini's Daughter" would be quite different if written by Margaret Fuller. She might have changed the point of view so that the reader saw things from Beatrice's perspective.

To see what effect this might have, imagine that you are Beatrice. Since you have no one to talk to, you record your thoughts in a diary. Write the diary entries that describe your meeting with Giovanni and the way you feel as you continue to see him. What are your hopes for the future?

Compare what you have written to the story by Hawthorne. Has your view of Beatrice changed? Do you see Giovanni or Beatrice's father differently than you did before? How does point of view influence your perceptions?

2. Imagine yourself a detective in 16th century Padua. You have learned of the death of Beatrice Rappaccini, and heard that a family servant claims she died from unnatural causes. You have been asked to investigate whether a crime has occurred, and if so, to identify the perpetrator. You have three possible suspects to interrogate: Giovanni Guasconti, Giacomo Rappaccini, and Pietro Baglioni. To complete your investigation you must do the following:

a. write a list of questions that you will ask each suspect;
b. use the text of the story to find answers to your questions
c. based on your interrogation, determine whether you will charge a suspect with murder and write a list of reasons for your decision

3. As many of the images featured in this section suggest, the figures of Beatrice from Dante's Divine Comedy (Purgatorio) and of Beatrice Cenci informed the characterization of Beatrice Rappaccini in Hawthorne's story. Like many other nineteenth-century artists and writers, Hawthorne was attracted to the image of woman as a redemptive figure who transforms another through love (Dante's Beatrice). He was also fascinated by ideas about woman as a mixed being who represented both innocence and danger (Beatrice Cenci). Read material on the two Beatrices from the web sites "Dante's 'love' for Beatrice" and "Screaming in the Castle" . How has Hawthorne drawn upon these two figures to shape Beatrice Rappaccini? What important differences exist between Hawthorne's character and her predecessors?

Images of Beatrice from Dante's Divine Comedy (Purgatorio):
The Death of Beatrice by D.G. Rosetti
The Meeting of Dante with Beatrice by Henry Holiday
Image of Beatrice Cenci
Beatrice Cenci

4. This learning activity was submitted by Donna Reiss, Professor of English at Tidewater Community College, Virginia Beach, VA.

Two of Nathaniel Hawthorne's best-known short stories are excellent companions to a reading of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: "The Birthmark" and "Rappaccini's Daughter." Like Frankenstein, they dramatize the impact of science and technology on human behavior and relationships. Although set in the nineteenth century, these works provoke our thinking about similar issues in the current century and help set the stage for an exploration of these issues throughout the twentieth century. This Explore activity focuses on "Rappaccini's Daughter," but the topics are also relevant for "The Birthmark."

As you read "Rappaccini's Daughter," consider the list of ideas and topics below that are also related to Frankenstein. I recommend that you review the Frankenstein Project Guidelines for suggestions such as the following:

  1. Ethics and science (responsibility of scientists)
  2. Relationship between creator/inventor and creations/inventions
  3. Educational approaches and curricula
  4. Relationships among families and friends
  5. Impact of obsessions on self and others

The Literature section of the Hawthorne in Salem Website has several topics that you can relate to your reading of "Rappaccini's Daughter." Even when the sources do not refer specifically to that story, sometimes the authors of the online articles discuss other Hawthorne works in ways that you can recognize as similar to "Rappaccini's Daughter." In particular, the sections titled "Women in Hawthorne" and "Alienation" might be of interest.

In addition, the Explore section links to some graphical and resources and other commentary that might interest you. Ideas of good and evil, for example, are emphasized in the Faith and Religion section.

Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/10496/

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