Dr. Heidegger's Experiment Theme Paper
Dr. Heidegger's Experiment, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a short story which addresses age, wisdom, and foolishness in an experimental format. The protagonist, Dr. Heidegger himself, runs a test on a couple of volunteers. The results are conclusive: wisdom is not a product of age; wisdom is gained by learning from past mistakes, and not dwelling on them. This idea controls the entire plot of the story and can be seen influencing each character as they interact in the experiment.
The story begins with the doctor inviting four of his “venerable” friends to take part in a experiment. Oddly, each of his friends have spoiled their youth in some way. This prompts the reader to begin watching for signs of regret or wisdom. After explaining the effects the water on a rose, Widow Wycherly is doubtful; in expressing this, she confirms her bitter attitude towards her age and past beauty. "Nonsense!" said the Widow Wycherly, with a peevish toss of her head. "You might as well ask whether an old woman's wrinkled face could ever bloom again." The rose is promptly restored to its youth and each of the subjects are eager to consume of the magical water. The theme begins to form as Heidegger is used as a foil to the groups reckless and ignorant actions. As they all dream about the benefits of youth, they ignore the doctor's warnings against gaining youth so unprepared. After drinking of the water, they immediately see some changes in their health and appearance and demand for more. As to not largely interfere with the experiment, the doctor complies. They progress into their youth, and begin to despise the “infirmity and decrepitude of which they had so lately been the victims. They laughed loudly at their old-fashioned attire” ditching years of their life as irrelevant.
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This leads into the most important effects of the theme in midst of a supposed miracle. The group becomes very wild and impulsive, hinting that both their mind and appearance have grown young. But just like youth, the time is fleeting and they find themselves returning to their undesirable forms. Dr. Heidegger, concluding on his observations, resolves to never drink of the water. He sees that youth contradicts wisdom, and its whole purpose is to make mistakes. Repeating them would bring him no value, so he decides against it. His subjects, however, desire to be young again and hunt for the fountain of youth thereafter. For once they saw they could live in the past, they could not enjoy the present. This calamity is the natural result of the water, for it gives the person both youth and discontented ignorance
The story comes to an abrupt end, but its themes hold true. Because each of the doctors friends were discontent with the present, they dwelled in the past -- forfeiting the wisdom of age. This thought is valuable to anyone, but most importantly to those who are consumed with regret. It teaches that wisdom is not from age, but rather perspective. It urges the reader: do not be sad when a part of life is over, look back, and be glad that it happened.