Rappaccini's Daughters: Hawthorne, Paz, and Rewriting in the Americas

Open Access
Egan, Caroline
Area of Honors:
Comparative Literature
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Djelal Kadir, Thesis Supervisor
  • Sydney Sue Aboul Hosn, Honors Advisor
  • literature of the Americas
  • Octavio Paz
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
In the context of the Americas, questions of originality and influence form a particular set of artistic and political conundrums linked to the continents’ problematic existence in the eyes of Europe since Columbus’s first encounter. Classified by him as both the site of Earthly Paradise and a New World, the Americas oscillate between the antiquity of the classical dwelling place of the Hesperides and the Biblical Eden, and the perpetual novelty of Columbus’s designation (O’Gorman 111). This contradictory embrasure is compounded in the history of the relationship between the Western hemisphere and Western Europe, particularly in the formulations of inheritance and influence that accompanied independence movements in the former. Fraught by such historical developments, the concept of rewriting in American literature implicates a set of interrelated political and artistic problems that revolve around derivation. The following essay will consider this dilemma through a comparative examination of two American works that explicitly embody a tension between repetition and invention: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 19th-century short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (1844) and the play La hija de Rappaccini written by Octavio Paz in 1956. Prominently written into Paz’s 1956 play is a reference to the etching “El sueño de la razón produce monstrous,” part of Los caprichos by 18th-century Spanish artist Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. Because Paz’s allusion to Goya was removed in the second version of his play, I will examine the specificity of its original conclusion in 1956 to consider how the triangulation of artistic inheritance that is articulated through Paz’s use of Hawthorne and Goya can be related to the political and cultural milieus of the 19th-century United States translated into 20th-century Mexico.