Study Guide

Dr. Heidegger's Experiment Old Age

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Old Age

"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" explores questions of age and behavior. What does it mean to be old? What does it mean to be young? What is the difference between defining age physically, and defining it mentally or emotionally? One interpretation of the text suggests that age is a state of mind; if one believes one is young, one will act accordingly. The story's moralistic side argues that youth is associated with folly, but offers no hope for redemption in older age, either.

Questions About Old Age

  1. At the beginning of the story, are Heidegger's old guests miserable because they are old, or because of the decisions they've made in their lives?
  2. What do we know about Dr. Heidegger's physical appearance? Why does Hawthorne go to such lengths to describe the appearance of the Doctor's study, yet give us so little information about the Doctor himself?
  3. At the start of "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," the narrator says that the four guests "were sometimes thought to be a little beside themselves […] when worried either by present troubles or woeful recollections" (1). What does this cryptic line mean?

Chew on This

Dr. Heidegger already knows what the outcome of his experiment will be, because he already understands the nature of youth and folly. He only subjects his guests to the experiment for his own sadistic amusement.

The authorial tone of "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" is a pessimistic one.