Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment: Reality or IllusionIn Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment, one ofthe central ideas of the story revolves around the idea of reality versusillusion. Of course the overriding theme of the story dealt with the ethicaldilemma of changing old age into youth, still a major part of how the story wasinterpreted involved a personal decision on how you took the story; as literalor figurative. The perception that appealed to me the most was reading thetext as literal, and concluding the experiment as reality rather then a figmentof imagination caused by the intoxicating brew.
A couple of points that Hawthorne made led me to believe that the storywas indeed a true testament of the powers of the magical water. The first israther evident and straight forward because it happens before a single personeven raises glass close to their lips. I am of course referring to the fifty-five year old rose that was given to Dr. Heidegger on the eve of his wedding byhis bride to be.
Heidegger places the rose in the water so there could beproof of the mysterious water’s power, but in the same act of proving its powerto his guests Hawthorne proves to us the power of the water because when therose regains life nobody was drunk or had even attempted to drink the water.”The crushed and dried petals stirred, and assumed a deepening tinge of crimson,as if the flower were reviving from a death-like slumber;”(page 3)It is that clear cut, and completely undeniable considering that five peoplewitnessed the act and not one had the slightest objection.After the first drink of the potion until the last, I was still led tothe opinion that what the guests were experiencing was in fact real andcompletely genuine. At this point I will point out that it is at this exactmoment where the issue of reality versus illusion begins to take shape.However, while we left to toil with this intriguing notion, it seems quiteintentional on the part of Hawthorne to make us decide on which side we are for.I would say his reasoning for dividing us would be to point out that while itmay be real or a delusion it’s ethical and moral message should be clear cut toeveryone. Backtracking for a second though, I would also like to dispute theargument of illusion as some people fight in favor, of on the sole occurrenceof the old images in the mirror.
It seems to me that as I mentioned above, aploy set by Hawthorne to add a little twist to the story, and give us thereaders something to think about. While we could argue that what they areseeing is a direct influence of the potion it would be far stretched to saythat what they felt and how they acted was fake too. Keeping in mind thatthese people are very old and probably way passed their days of jumping arounddancing about, it is pretty hard to say that this water gave them enough energyand vigor to move around like youngsters but still be contained in their oldbodies.The men especially would have been hurt while the struggled likeyoung men in the favor of the widow as they had done with such ease. It is alsoa fact the Doctor himself had seen, and without the prejudice of the drink Imight add, the transformation because he refers the men as “gay young men”(page 7) when the widow asks for his hand in a dance.
A final example of the water’s power should not be sought any fartherthan the last few pages upon which it can be found that the life of a deceasedbutterfly was once again made possible by the healing nature of the water. Asit clearly written the story is not told from the stand point of the butterflyso that it might be influenced by the drink, it is told from afar, and all whowere in the story, especially the Doctor, could testify that they witnessed therebirth of the insect as it happened to land on the head of the Doctor.The points I have made provided ample proof in my own mind to the notionthat this story in fact was not a delusionary tale, but rather a fictional talemeant to be perceived as real. It is, however debatable, but what is not isthe underlying message of not to mess with mother nature, and how man if hecould regain his youth, man would probably make the same mistakes twice if hewas in fact given the chance to “do it all again.”