From 11:00PM PDT on Friday, July 1 until 5:00AM PDT on Saturday, July 2, the Shmoop engineering elves will be making tweaks and improvements to the site. That means Shmoop will be unavailable for use during that time. Thanks for your patience!
We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
Dr. Heidegger's Experiment

Dr. Heidegger's Experiment

  

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Dr. Heidegger's Experiment Theme of Versions of Reality

"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" is a story of illusion, deception, and doubt. The title character makes use of theatricality, wishful thinking, and even alcohol (in one interpretation of the story) to make experimental subjects of his friends. This illusory trickery even seeps into the narration – the narrator's shadowy evasions raise similar questions for the reader of what is real, what is fictional, and, most interestingly, whether or not it matters.

Questions About Versions of Reality

  1. What specific passages in the text support the interpretation that the elixir of life is real? What specific passages support the interpretation that the elixir is not real?
  2. If Dr. Heidegger already believes that to grow young again is to make the same mistakes, why does he put his guests through the experiment anyway?
  3. Is Dr. Heidegger honest with his guests? At what points, and why, does he deceive them?

Chew on This

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

"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" is intentionally ambiguous as to whether or not the water in the vase really is the elixir of life. The question is ultimately beside the story's main point.

The unreliability of the narrator serves to place the reader in the same state of uncertainty as Dr. Heidegger's guests.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...

Advertisement