Analysis: Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment Essay, Research Paper
Analysis: Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment
“If all stories were true, Dr. Heidegger’s study must have been a very curious place.”(p.2). From the very start we are warned that the stories about Dr. Heidegger may not be true. This becomes important in analyzation because we can no longer depend on the stories as fact, but at the same time we have no reason to doubt them.
Dr. Heidegger is known to be a peculiar man, and it is said that he held consultations with a bronze bust of Hippocrates. His study is filled with many intriguing items. Such as a mirror hung between two bookcases which supposedly houses the ghosts of his deceased patients. But above all curiosities, was a bound black leather folio volume with massive silver clasps, which contained mysteries yet to be known.
It seems that the more one looks in detail at the story, the less alive the four old people become. In the beginning Hawthorne refers to them as “not long ago in their graves,” (p.1) and as those “who had been unfortunate in life,” (p.1) from this we can see that they are actually six feet under, or dead.
There are many areas to be examined in “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” one of which being the tall mirror in the study. This mirror is said to house the spirits of all the doctor’s deceased patients. Later on the mirror reflects the figures of the old people and they appear as “?old, gray, withered? ?skinny ugliness?”(p.7) from this it can be concluded that they really are spirits, and are just being reflected as living beings.
It appears that the old people are sitting in Dr. Heidegger’s study, but at the same time it seems that they might not actually be there. Dr. Heidegger speaks with them as if they are living, however it seems more likely that they are sitting there in a ghostly presence and Dr. Heidegger is attempting to bring them back to life.
“Before you drink, my respectable old friends,” said he, “it would be well that, with the experience of a lifetime to direct you, you should draw up a few general rules for your guidance, in passing a second time through the perils of youth. Think what a sin and shame it would be, if, with your peculiar advantages, you should not become patterns of virtue and wisdom to all the young people of the age.”
The doctor’s four venerable friends made him no answer, except by a feeble and tremulous laugh; so very ridiculous was the idea, that, knowing how closely repentance treads behind the steps of error, they should ever go astray again.” (p.4)
This could be seen as foreshadowing, as a warning that the old people, when returning to youth or life, would once again act recklessly and foolishly. It becomes obvious that the four are unwilling to wait a moment to become young and alive again. They desire youth more then anything else. “You have been a long time growing old. Surely you might be content to grow young in half an hour!” (p.5), their hurriedness to grow young is perhaps symbolic that they are still young at heart, but have been ignorant to this because of their condition and or stamina.
The four people involved are very superficial, especially the widow. “?She stood before the mirror?” (p.6), it seems none of them could handle the aging process and only wanted to return to their youth. They felt that because their appearances were old, that they too must be old and decrepit. Their ignorance remained with them even after experiencing life once over.
As soon as they were old again they wanted to leave immediately for the Fountain of Youth, so that they would never again have to be old. These four sad old people were not able to see the beauty of their age and wisdom, instead they sought to look beautiful and young. Dr. Heidegger wanted to watch them grow young, to see if they might realize that being old is not such a terrible thing, and that one can pass on their wisdom to the youth of the age.
It is also important to realize that they may not have even been young again. Maybe it was just their imagination running wild, due to the intoxicating fluids Dr. Heidegger gave them. Or perhaps they just believed that they were young, so that they felt young. The power of the human mind should never be doubted. Hypochondriacs are a perfect example of this, they can think themselves ill. One can set their mind to anything, including becoming young again.
Were these people truly young? Were these people even living? As is typical with Hawthorne, everything is described in a hazy state, so that the reader is unsure and must make his or her own assumptions. It is undoubtedly certain that they felt young, and believed that they were young again. However, it is unlikely that they were actually young again. It seems rather foolish to believe such a fountain could exist.
Never knowing whether or not these people are old living people, or dead beings revived with spirits, it is hard to assume a position in analysis of the story. Although the ‘death’ theory is a good and plausible one, perhaps there are other ways to see the same story.
One view in particular is that of the importance of youth. At the beginning of the story Dr. Heidegger wants to watch the four old people and see what happens when they drink the Water of Youth. It appears that he is interested in the after effects of youth, to see if youth is worth having again. He shows how the water effects the rose, and allows it to return to its youthful state, and then invites the four people to enjoy the same return to youth.
While drinking the Water of Youth, the old people feel young and lively, and they return to their old habits of youthful rivalry over beauty. The doctor watches and learns from them that youth is not all that it seems. In the end he tells them that no matter what, he would never drink from the fountain of youth because it would only return him to his old habits and ways. As is displayed with the butterfly, when the vase is broken, and the Water of Youth is spilled on the floor, the people return to their horrid elderly state of death, and want only to be young again.
Looking at the story from either perspective gives the impression that people should value youth, learn from their experiences, and enjoy their old age and wisdom. Although the four old people do not learn from their experiences, the readers should, and hopefully will learn that there is more to life then being vain and ignorant.