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Themes

"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" is rooted in a rather pessimistic view of human nature. The story argues that people are, for the most part, fools. They don't learn from their mistakes, they're generally petty, and we can't expect anyone to change for the better. In this story, foolishness is particularly associated with youth, or at least a youthful state of mind. Hawthorne does provide a counter-example to his foolish characters in the form of Dr. Heidegger, but even this character has his sinister side.

Questions About Foolishness and Folly

  1. In the opening paragraph, the narrator states that Heidegger's four guests "had been unfortunate in life" (1). Are the fates of Heidegger's four guests due to misfortune, or to serious character flaws?
  2. In their "Character Analysis," we argue that each of Dr. Heidegger's four guests exemplify a different vice. Does Dr. Heidegger, too, embody a vice, or is he meant to be a positive example to counter the guests? If he does embody a particular vice, which one?
  3. We argue in his "Character Analysis" that Dr. Heidegger's gravitas and wisdom contrasts with the foolishness of his guests. This certainly has something to do with his role as a doctor conducting the experiment. But it raises an interesting question: what kind of doctor is Dr. Heidegger?
  4. What are the different kinds of foolishness we see in "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment"? What distinguishes each of the four guests from the others?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In illustrating the foolishness of his characters, Hawthorne condemns his readers as fools as well.

The four guests are two-dimensional caricatures, not fully developed, three-dimensional characters.

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