Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story revolves around four main characters: Dr. Heidegger, Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mrs. Pettibone.
Dr. Heidegger is the central figure in the story. He is an elderly man who is quite knowledgeable about science and nature. He has a strong interest in experimenting with different substances and objects.
Mr. Medbourne is an old friend of Dr. Heidegger’s. He is a successful businessman who has recently become widowed. Mr. Medbourne is somewhat skeptical of Dr. Heidegger’s experiments, but he is also curious to see what will happen.
Colonel Killigrew is another old friend of Dr. Heidegger’s. He is a retired military officer who is now living a life of leisure. Colonel Killigrew is also interested in seeing what will happen during Dr. Heidegger’s experiment.
Mrs. Pettibone is the fourth main character in the story. She is a wealthy woman who is always trying to stay young and beautiful. Mrs. Pettibone is very excited to participate in Dr. Heidegger’s experiment.
Dr. Heidegger only wishes to help his friends, even if that means conducting unsavory experiments on them. To emphasize how pure his intentions are, he states before beginning the experiment,”With your permission, I will observe the progress of apace elixir.” By being specific with his words instead of leaving it open for interpretation, Dr.Heidegger becomes more trustworthy.
Even with the short story’s short length, Hawthorne does a fantastic job of developing Heidegger as not only a caring man, but an intelligent one as well. Dr.Heidegger is first seen as a caring individual when he invites his old friends to come drink from the elixir, in hopes of returning them to their youth. Even though some may see this as narcissistic, it is clear that Heidegger wants nothing more than for his friends to be happy.
An example of Heidegger’s intelligence is shown near the end of the story, where he has predicted everything that happened due to the elixir. Although he was not able to completely counteract the negative effects of the elixir, such as Mr. Medbourne’s blindness, he had the foresight to know that it was a possibility. Nathaniel Hawthorne does an excellent job of building Dr. Heidegger into a round character, through his actions and dialogue.
If you would like to benefit from this experiment, Dr. Heidegger gives a fair warning that you should go into it with a set of guidelines. This will help prevent the repetition of tragedy.
In short, the story is about four friends- Dr. Heidegger, Colonel Killigrew, Mr. Medbourne, and Mrs. Bellingham- who visit the doctor to drink from the Fountain of Youth. The water rejuvenates them and they become young again, but they also reenact their previous mistakes. Hawthorne uses this story as a way to explore how people never learn from their mistakes and continue to make the same choices throughout their lives.
The first character introduced in the story is Dr. Heidegger himself. He is an old man who has dedicated his life to studying the occult and experimenting with different ways to achieve immortality. He is eccentric and somewhat mysterious, which immediately intrigues his friends. Even though he is old, he still has a sense of humor and loves to play tricks on his friends.
Colonel Killigrew is the next character introduced. He is an older gentleman who fought in the Revolutionary War. He is very proud of his accomplishments and loves to talk about his wartime experiences. He is also very vain and self-centered, which leads him to make some poor choices during the experiment.
Mr. Medbourne is a middle-aged man who made his fortune in the timber industry. He is very down-to-earth and level-headed, but he also has a short temper. He is not as quick to trust Dr. Heidegger as the other two men, but he eventually goes along with the experiment.
The last character introduced is Mrs. Bellingham. She is a young widow who is still grieving the loss of her husband. She is very skeptical of Dr. Heidegger and his experiment, but she agrees to go along with it in order to feel young again.
All four of these characters have their flaws, which leads them to make some poor choices during the experiment. However, they are all ultimately redeemable and learn from their mistakes by the end of the story.
Mr. Killigrew, Mr. Gascoin, and Widow Wycherly all see this as an experience while Dr. Heidegger’s excitement lies in the fact that he created a completely original experiment and has the honor to execute it using people he is close to.
Even though all the characters are eager to regain their youth, they each have different motivations and intentions.
Killigrew is motivated by power and money. He was once a successful man, but now he is old and frail. He hopes that by drinking from the Fountain of Youth, he will be able to regain his strength and become wealthy again.
Mr. Gascoigne’s motivation is similar to Killigrew’s in that he also wants to be young and powerful again. However, unlike Killigrew, Gascoigne is not motivaed by greed. Instead, he wants to be young so that he can relive his glory days and feel happy again.
Widow Wycherly’s motivation is different from both Killigrew and Gascoigne. She does not want to be young again so that she can be powerful or happy. Instead, she wants to be young so that she can experience love again.
Dr. Heidegger’s motivation is also different from the other characters. He is not motivated by power, money, or happiness. Instead, he is motivated by his love of knowledge. He wants to see if his experiment will actually work and he is excited to see the results.
Although it’s true that Dr. Heidegger learned a lesson from the process, his friends were more than guinea pigs to him. He believes that a lessons can’t be properly learned without taking specific steps this logic shouldn’t be mistaken for wanting harm or misery on his subjects. In the mind of a great scientist like Dr. Heidegger, there are no hidden motives behind his actions; there is only a plan, observation, analysis and conclusion.
The first step in this experiment is to take four old friends, all of whom have experienced some great loss or disappointment in their lives. These friends are Colonel Killigrew, who lost his wealth; Mr. Medbourne, who lost all his hair; Mrs. Carlisle, who lost her beauty; and finally Mr. Gascoigne, who had been very unlucky in love. The second step is to provide them with a potion that will restore youth.
The third and final step is to sit back and observe the results. This is where Dr. Heidegger’s true genius shines through. He has a keen eye for detail and is able to see beyond the physical changes that have taken place in his subjects. He looks for the deeper changes, the ones that can only be seen in the eyes and in the soul.
What Dr. Heidegger learns from his experiment is that youth is not all it’s cracked up to be. His friends may have been given a second chance at life, but they have not learned from their mistakes. They are still the same old people, just with younger bodies. The Colonel is still greedy, the Mr. Medbourne is still vain, Mrs. Carlisle is still short-sighted, and Mr. Gascoigne is still unlucky in love. In short, they have learned nothing and they are doomed to repeat their mistakes.