In both “Rappaccini’s Daughter" and “The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, female characters are systematically built up as paragons of perfection, beauty, and virginal grace only to be, by the end of each tale, completely destroyed. Interestingly, while this may at first glance seem to be a pervading issue of misogyny, this is not necessarily the case since the demise of both central women characters, Beatrice and Georgiana, are brought about because of the scientific interference of men. At the beginning of each of these stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, both women are presented as being at the height of physical beauty as well as pure of spirit. It is not long, however, before their tragic flaws are revealed; a poisonous presence and a small birthmark and from that point, the demise of these women and the “plucking apart" of their beauty happens through the actions of male characters who are seeking something for their ends, which is generally scientific achievement or love—or some strange combination of both. In other words, Hawthorne appears to be presenting an idea about the nature scientific inquiry, particularly as it relates to feminine beauty.
The image of Beatrice Rappaccini is likened to that of the flowers she tends to and even before the meaning of this connection becomes completely clear, the narrator states in the short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne,“Rappaccini’s Daughter” (full summary and plot analysis here) that, “Flower and maiden were different and yet the same, and fraught with some strange peril in either shape" (Rappaccini 1317). Like the flowers in her father’s garden, Beatrice is beautiful, carries a lovely scent, and even dresses to resemble one, thus emphasize her relationship to the garden. The narrator is careful to highlight her perfection, especially in the eyes of her beholder Giovanni as he notices how “She looked redundant with life, health and energy; all of which attributes were bound down and compressed, as it were, and girdled tensely, in their luxuriance, by her virgin zone" (Rappaccini 1316).
At these early points in the story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Rappaccini’s Daughter", the narrator is clearly developing a relationship between femininity and perfect, unspoiled beauty, especially in this “garden of Eden" she lives in. She is virginal and pure and nothing spoils her, not even, as the reader soon discovers, her demeanor as she is good-spirited and kind. However, just as in the case of the short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Birthmark" (full summary here) there is something that is not quite right about this perfection and the dark-clad figure of her father enters the scene and remains a lurking figure throughout. In this “garden of Eden" scenario where Eve (Beatrice, in her perfect state of nature—or so it seems) he is like the black serpent who enters, bringing the poison of science and detachment with him.
Interestingly, in terms of this theme regarding women, science and the story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Rappaccini’s Daughter" it seems that although her father is the one who created his daughter to be poisonous, however, just as in the case of “The Minister’s Black Veil" (full summary and analysis here) it is not he who actually causes her death; instead it is the one who loves her most, Giovanni. This issue has been explored by scholars who attempt to examine this recurrent pattern through this and other Hawthorne stories, one of whom notes that it is disturbing “the relationship of three men to a woman who, though she never deliberately harms any of them, and though the men profess to have her good in mind, is nevertheless destroyed by them" (Brenzo 155).