Study Guide

Dr. Heidegger's Experiment Versions of Reality

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

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

"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.

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