Dr. Heidegger's Experiment
"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" is a short story by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, about a doctor who claims to have been sent water from the Fountain of Youth. Originally published anonymously, it was later published in Hawthorne's collection Twice-Told Tales in 1837. (From Wikipedia)
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Dr. Heidegger's Experiment, Nathaniel Hawthorne
In a short story, a skillful author will quickly establish both characters and conflict. What do the characters of Medbourne, Killigrew, Gascoigne, and Wycherly have in common, and what long-standing conflict already exists between them? Use specific evidence from the text in your answer.
This short story is written by nineteenth-century writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the most well-known authors in American history. Study the graphic below before reading to familiarize yourself with the elements of a short story. As you read, look for these elements and pay attention to how they develop. (This annotation contains an image)
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Try it now with the word "forbear." How does the use of this word contribute to the story's atmosphere?
The setting of a short story often helps to establish the story's mood. As you read this description of Dr. Heidegger's study, what details does the author include to establish an unusual and mysterious atmosphere? Look for specific words and phrases that contain a lot of imagery, or sensory details. Compare the text with the illustration of the setting below. (This annotation contains an image)
The narrator of this story speaks in the first person, yet he or she is not actually one of the characters in Dr. Heidegger's study. Through the use of this point of view, the reader remains somewhat removed from the thoughts of the main characters. For more information about point of view, watch the video below. Why do you think that Hawthorne chose this vantage point for the story? (This annotation contains a video)
What gift or talent has Widow Wycherly evidently lost as she has aged?
This allusion, or reference, to the Fountain of Youth is central to Hawthorne's plot theme regarding age and wisdom. The Fountain of Youth is referenced often in literature, art, and even popular culture. The image below is an example. Compare the tone of this comic's reference to the fountain with the short story's tone. (This annotation contains an image)
What is Dr. Heidegger asking the four old people to remember before they drink from the Fountain of Youth?
Although the four characters who drink from the elixir are somewhat pitiful, the reader is not meant to feel sympathy for them. In fact, it seems that, despite his words, Dr. Heidegger doesn't particularly care for his guests either. The author uses verbal irony to help make his tone, or attitude, clear to the reader. For more information about irony, watch the video below. What other examples of irony do you see in this story? (This annotation contains a video)
From the guests' point of view, which of the following is an effect of drinking from Dr. Heidegger's glasses?
Notice that even though Dr. Heidegger tells his guests to slow down, he quickly replenishes their glasses. Through clues such as this one, it becomes clear that Dr. Heidegger fully intends for his guests to drink this mixture. Why do you think Heidegger chose these specific people for his experiment?
What evidence from this paragraph most directly suggests that the guests have not heeded Dr. Heidegger's earlier warning that they should not repeat the mistakes of their youth?
Although this story is short, the author still manages to pack in a great deal of careful character description. The graphic below will help you understand the methods of direct and indirect characterization. How does Hawthorne use both to develop the characters in this story? (This annotation contains an image)
The guests are "almost awed" by the look on Dr. Heidegger's face, but they continue on their course anyway. The reader is never told exactly what Heidegger's facial expression looks like at this moment. Based on other details within the story, including the author's tone, what emotions do you think are evident on the doctor's old face?
A metaphor is the comparison of two unlike things without using the words "like" or "as." What is the effect of the author using a metaphor in this passage?
The author mentions a "strange deception" in this passage: the transformed guests still look old within the mirror. Since the guests are oblivious to this, the author uses the detail to make the reader question the authenticity of the elixir. Is the mirror deceptive, or is it Dr. Heidegger's experiment that might not be what it seems? If the guests haven't truly become younger, then what might be the true nature of Heidegger's experiment?
Personification is a type of figurative language in which the author gives human qualities to something that is not actually human. In this passage, what is being personified?
Is Dr. Heidegger's elixir truly from the Fountain of Youth? Use textual details about the flower, the guests, and the butterfly to explain your answer.
The illustration below is one artist's interpretation of this story. How does the image relate to the story? If you were to draw an illustration, what additional details would you include in your image? (This annotation contains an image)
Quiz, Dr. Heidegger's Experiment