Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne
In Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne we have the theme of renewal, vanity, power, greed, lust, wisdom, self-importance, selfishness and ignorance. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Hawthorne may be exploring the theme of renewal. Each of the characters who drink the water from the Fountain of Youth. Get exactly what they wish for. They are young again though unfortunately none of the characteristics of the characters change. Widow Wycherly is still concerned about how she looks and if anything is obsessive about looking as attractive as she did when she was younger. This may be significant as Hawthorne may be suggesting that Widow Wycherly despite the passing of time and the loss of her beauty remains vain. Mr Medbourne also reverts to exactly how he was in his youth with his primary thoughts being surrounded or engulfed with ideas of power and greed. All he thinks about is money and the abilities to make money now that he is a young man again. Again there is no change in Mr Medbourne’s personality just as there is no change in Widow Wycherly’s.
Similarly Colonel Killigrew does not change when he is restored to his youth. He continues to be as lustful as he was when he was a young man and on two separate occasions makes advances towards a young Widow Wycherly. Also Mr Gascoigne seems driven by the idea of political power and in many ways mirrors the greed shown by Mr Medbourne who lusts for financial gain. If anything the important thing to remember is that all four characters mentioned do not change when they have the opportunity to. They think and act just as they did when they were younger after drinking some of the water from the Fountain of Youth. This may be significant as Hawthorne could be suggesting that should an individual have the opportunity to become immortal as is possible by drinking from the Fountain of Youth. They will not necessarily make changes to their lives. In reality all four characters are driven by their own ego or self-importance. The only character who appears to have any sense is Dr. Heidegger. Who on the decaying of the rose accepts that he cannot bring back his past. No matter how much he would like to.
The fact that all four characters who drink the water from the Fountain of Youth repeat their mistakes may be important as Hawthorne could be suggesting that just because an individual is older does not necessarily make them wiser. It is as though none of the characters with the exception of Dr. Heidegger have learnt from their past. Each appears to be rooted in their own personal desire be it for power, greed, lust or vanity. It is as though none of the four have learnt anything as they years have passed. The fact that the water wears off could also be significant as it may be a case that by having the effects of the water wear off Hawthorne is suggesting that lost youth (for anybody) cannot be reclaimed. In reality what is past is gone forever no matter how strong an individual’s desire is to reclaim parts of their past. Each of the four characters are attempting to attain perfection again or at least what they perceive to be perfection. Though it is noticeable that all four are only thinking of themselves and no one else.
The end of the story is also interesting as Dr. Heidegger appears to be the only one who is rational or logical enough to know that the Fountain of Youth is not something that is of benefit to him (or to others). However this does not stop the other four characters in the story chasing youth and going to Florida. It is as though the lure of youth is overpowering for all four. Even though the effects do not last long. It might also be important that all four characters with the exception of Dr. Heidegger do not see the mistake that they are making. It is as though they are ignorant of the facts despite what Dr. Heidegger tells them. Which may be the point that Hawthorne is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that an individual regardless of the facts will think only of their own needs and be driven to act selfishly. As the four characters do. At the end of the story the only one who shows any wisdom is Dr. Heidegger. All of the other charterers are thinking only of the benefits of youth for their own needs. Rather than accepting life on life’s terms all four believe that they can be who and what they want to be should they continue to drink the water from the Fountain of Youth. Unfortunately what the characters want to be and what they wish to become is of no benefit to others.