What lesson or lesson do you think Hawthorne intended "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" to teach?   What warning does the doctor give his guests?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The lesson that Hawthorne intends to show in his short story "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" is that if people were ever to be given the opportunity to go back in time, they would also revert back to all the behaviors that characterized them at the time. In essence, people would likely not change. The key reason is simple: people are who they are, no matter in what place or time they exist. 

In the story, Dr. Heidegger intends to conduct an experiment where he will give four eccentric old people a youth elixir. He warns them, however, not to allow the feelings of youth to make them go back to committing the same foolish acts that were once dictated by their immaturity and naïveté.

In fact, he encourages the four participants to become beacons of respectability, maybe even inspiring other youths to avoid making bad choices and to start over again with better, respectable lives.  

...you should draw up a few general rules for your guidance, in passing a second time through the perils of youth. Think what a sin and shame it would be, if, with your peculiar advantages, you should not become patterns of virtue and wisdom to all the young people of the age!

Clearly, this is easier said than done. Once the participants feel young again, they immediately revert to the exact immature and self-indulgent desires that once marked their lives. They went back to the same issues, same arguments, and same weaknesses. 

They learned nothing. Rather than learning from their experiences as older people and applying them to their newfound youth, they instead indulged over and over in past bad choices. In fact, once the elixir wore off, they looked forward to finding the mythical fountain of youth, from which they planned to drink for days on end. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Heidegger may have learned that he was right all along: why try to go back in time if it means going back to the same issues that once haunted us? It is no surprise that, when the bottle of the elixir crashes and the liquid spills, Dr. Heidegger does not feel sorry in the least. 

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Each of the old persons Heidegger choses for his experiment are known for some kind of immoral or illegal actions when they were young. Each one could be consider a symbol for a types of people known for scandalous behavior in the form of immoral sexual behavior, greed, political corruption or "lechery". Although Heidegger warns all of them that if they drink the water from the fountain of youth, they may revert to the same behavior that caused scandal when they were young. All of course say that they have learned from the past. However, when they do become young, they resort to their same old behaviors, which finally results in the destruction of the water which is supposedly giving them youth. Thus Hawthorne's lesson seems to be that people who engage in scandalous behavior generally do not learn from their mistakes, but continues to follow selfish
pleasure. This kind of pleasure is always short-lived, as witnessed not only by the behavior of the old people, but by Sylvia's rose and the butterfly. As Heidegger points out at the end, "if the fountain of youth flowed at my doorstep, I would not stoop to drink from it". Heidegger has learned to leave the past alone whereas the other still cling to it and the transitory pleasures it brought.

remhniang | Student

youth is wasted on the young!!!!

yaz5000 | Student

Lesson #1:There are some things which, because of human nature...they may be learned only through experience.

Lesson #2: Youth is wasted on the young!  When given a second chance, each repeated the mistakes of youth...they learned nothing.

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Dr. Heidegger's Experiment

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