The Human Involvement in Nature in The Open Boat and Rappaccini's Daughter

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This semester we have read several pieces of literature that all can be tied together with the theme of nature. While there were some texts that I genuinely enjoyed ready such as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” there were pieces that I struggled to read and enjoy like “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane. Though my opinion on the texts may differ, both have themes that revolve around nature and share similar perspectives..

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The literary text that I enjoyed the most was “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne because of its complexity and how engaging it was. The most captivating part of the story for me was the character of Beatrice because how deeply she was entwined with nature. From the beginning, it is clear than Beatrice and nature were created by Hawthorne to go hand in hand; she calls the purple flowers in the greenhouse her “sister” and makes comparisons between herself and the flowers. Giovanni, the story’s focalizer, is very aware of this relationship and thinks, 'Flower and maiden were different and yet the same' (1336). When Giovanni visits the poisonous garden he sees that organisms seem to die after crossing Beatrice’s path and he debates on whether this means she is an evil person instead of beautiful and good like he sees her to be. “A fervor glowed in her whole aspect, and beamed upon Giovanni's consciousness like the light of truth itself,” (Hawthorne 1344) this quote shows that Giovanni does see Beatrice as morally good despite what he saw her poisonous touch do. Though her speech and actions show her to be truly kind and moral, her poisonous touch makes the outside world perceive her as not being truly kind and moral which causes the primary conflict in Hawthorne’s text. The reader and Giovanni work simultaneously to try to understand Beatrice and if she is good or evil. This process reminded me of how man is constantly trying to understand if nature itself is good or evil. To me, the dichotomy of Beatrice’s character and her important relationship with nature is vital to Hawthorne’s message of how nature should not be controlled like Rappaccini tried to.

If I had to pick one piece that would be my least favorite it would be “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane. I chose this as my least favorite piece only because while reading it seemed to drag on; I understand that this was a writing tool to represent how the characters themselves were dealing with how slow time was passing but it made it hard for me to become engaged in the story. Because I was already unengaged in the story, it made it difficult for me to become invested and fully process what was happening so I found that I had to reread several sections. One element that caused me to reread was the characters, specifically how I struggled with keeping them straight. While I struggled with some parts of “The Open Boat” I did genuinely enjoy the interactions between the characters and the portrayal of nature. When the correspondent is thinking about what will happen if they do not get off the boat he discusses nature: “She did not seem cruel to him then, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent.” (Crane 803). I enjoyed that Crane personified nature and portrayed it as unforgiving and indifferent. Though I liked that part, I found myself confused at the end of the story. I was left uncertain about how it actually ended and thought that it was perhaps a hallucination. When we discussed the ending of “The Open Boat” in class, I learned that was not correct.

While my opinions on Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and Crane’s “The Open Boat” may differ, their involvement in the theme of nature are related. Nature takes on a major role in both short stories as it is central to each storyline whether or not nature is good or evil. In “Rappaccini’s Daughter” the character Giovanni is entranced with the titular character of Beatrice who is Rappaccini’s daughter. Beatrice’s fate is intricately intertwined with that of nature and specific the poisonous plants her father keeps as evident in this quote: 'Nor did he fail again to observe, or imagine, an analogy between the girl and the gorgeous shrub that hung its gem-like flowers over the fountain' (Hawthorne 1338). It is through Beatrice that the characters in the story make their judgements about nature. Nature, through Beatrice, is portrayed as something deadly and dangerous but also because of Beatrice’s moral disposition is something that is beautiful and good. Similarly, “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane explores the polarity of nature being simultaneous good and evil. It is through the correspondent that we come to understand how the four men view the entity that is surrounding them--nature. The following quote outlines the men’s frustrating of how nature is relentless and indifferent to their strife and that they can do nothing to combat it: “When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply that there are no bricks and no temples” (801). The men battle with the forces of nature to try and survive and in the end nature takes the life of the Oiler. But at this end, while reflecting on their survival, the story ends with a quote that depicts nature as something beautiful and serene: “the white waves paced to and fro in the moonlight” (806), which contrasts how nature had been written about in the previous pages. The stories overlap on their perspective of nature and how humans are involved with it; they each conclude with their focal characters finding some sort of beauty in the element that once served as the conflict. Both texts deliver an important message: nature cannot be messed with and nor should it. These two very different works of literature still find common ground in how the authors that wrote them depicted nature.

Nathaniel Hawthorne and Stephen Crane both created literary works that revolve around the theme of nature and human involvement. “Rappaccini’s Daughter” was my favorite piece to read and highlighted how a character can be used to drive the message of a theme. “The Open Boat” may have been my least favorite because of pace it was written in, but I did enjoy its overall viewpoint on nature through its characters. Regardless of my opinion of either story, I can recognize how each author was highly effective when demonstrating their perspectives on nature in their work.

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The Human Involvement in Nature in The Open Boat and Rappaccini’s Daughter. (2020, December 14). WritingBros. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
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