Study Guide

Dr. Heidegger's Experiment Setting

By Nathaniel Hawthorne


Dr. Heidegger's Study, probably in the first half of the 19th century, right around sunset

You've probably noticed that we've talked about the setting – Dr. Heidegger's study – in just about every section of this Shmoop Guide. In other words…it's really, really important stuff. By now you've probably heard us blab on and on about the text's third paragraph, so we'll take a moment and let you read it over again yourself… Great. Now go read "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory," where every prop mentioned in this paragraph is discussed in gory detail.

OK, now that you know everything there is to know about Dr. Heidegger's study, we can talk about what it does for the story as a whole. For the most part, it sets the proper atmosphere. Everything that is true of "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" is true of Dr. Heidegger's study. Is it full of creepy, potentially magical objects? Check. Are we unsure about whether it's really supernatural or simply a case of well-crafted theatricality? Check. Is there a dark and possibly sinister bent to the whole thing? Absolutely. (Just think skeletons and dead faces.)

Moving on. We're never told explicitly what year it is, but we can pretty safely assume that Hawthorne wrote the story as a contemporary piece. Since he was writing in 1837, we'll go ahead and assume that the story takes place sometime around then.

Also, it's probably not a coincidence that, as the evening's events transpire, the sun sets. There is a much bigger transformation in the setting which accompanies the transformation taking place inside the Doctor's study. If you don't believe us, maybe this paragraph will convince you:

There, in fact, stood the four glasses, brimful of this wonderful water, the delicate spray of which, as it effervesced from the surface, resembled the tremulous glitter of diamonds. It was now so nearly sunset that the chamber had grown duskier than ever; but a mild and moonlike splendor gleamed from within the vase, and rested alike on the four guests and on the doctor's venerable figure. (32)