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Biotechnology and Hawthorne

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Biotechnology and Hawthorne

In today’s world, the field of biotechnology is continuously advancing day by day. Scientists develop more and more ways to help and possibly harm us with their ever increasing knowledge and experimentation. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” highlights today’s controversial topic of genetically modified plants through its own twisted plot.

Rappaccini’s Daughter is the story of a mad scientist, Giacomo Rappaccini, who works by himself on his experiment with poisonous plants. Giovanni Guasconti, a young student living right next door sees from his window the scientist’s beautiful daughter, Beatrice, and notices that while she lovingly tends to the garden , her father’s “demeanor was that of one walking among malignant influences…[which] would wreak upon him some terrible fatality” (Hawthorne, 189). Giovanni sneaks into the garden to see Beatrice, and the two soon fall in love. He is unaware of the fact that the poisonous garden is what keeps Beatrice alive, and every day he is absorbing the poisons and becoming immune to them. Giovanni is warned by his mentor, Professor Baglioni that Rappaccini is up to no good, but ignores these warnings as he is a fool in love. After some time, he begins to realize the effects that his frequent visits to the garden are having on him. He finds that he cannot interact with other life without causing it to be affected by the poison now instilled in him. He finds Professor Baglioni again, who gives him a vial containing what is thought to be an antidote to the poisons of the garden. He then returns to Beatrice and blames her for making him “as hateful, as ugly, as loathsome and deadly a creature as [herself]” (Hawthorne, 207). Beatrice tries to defend herself, saying that it is her “father’s fatal science” (Hawthorne, 207) which has done this to him, and that she would never do such a thing to him knowingly. Convinced by her sincerity, he tells her of the cure he has been given, and she volunteers to drink it first to be sure it is safe. Just as she takes it, her father comes into the garden and sees the two lovers together. He rejoices, as they realize that they were in fact all along part of his experiment, and says to them “pass on, then, through the world, most dear to one another and dreadful to all besides” (Hawthorne, 208). He believes that he has given his daughter a gift of power and strength, rather than the miserable doom that she thinks it is. In the end, Beatrice dies due to the supposed antidote that she consumed, and becomes the victim of her father’s experiment.

Genetically modified plants, similar to Rappaccini’s, are created by taking a gene for a desired trait from one species and giving it to another. There are many points both for and against this controversial practice. Those that defend it draw attention to the fact that food products can be grown to have a longer shelf-life with resistance to diseases and pests. Conversely, others fear that such resistant genes may be unhealthy for humans or animals to consume, and that the resistance may also upset the general balance of the ecosystem.

Rappaccini’s garden and genetically modified plants seem to present similar problems.

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