Dr. Heidegger's Experiment

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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What does Colonel Killigrew symbolize in "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment"?

Quick answer:

Colonel Killigrew represents old people who have squandered their youth in the pursuit of pleasure and whose health now suffers as a result.

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The short story "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a fantasy in which Dr. Heidegger has obtained some water from the fabled Fountain of Youth. He has called four friends to his study to conduct an experiment as to whether the water of the fountain really works. The four experimental subjects drink the magical water, and they do become young for a short period of time. However, the effect quickly wears off, and when it does, they grow old again.

The "four venerable friends" of Dr. Heidegger are Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, Mr. Gascoigne, and the Widow Wycherly. The four of them are extremely old people who badly need the "liquor" of youth. Hawthorne writes,

They looked as if they had never known what youth or pleasure was, but had been the offspring of Nature's dotage, and always the gray, decrepit, sapless, miserable creatures, who now sat stooping round the doctor's table, without life enough in their souls or bodies to be animated even by the prospect of growing young again.

The three men pursued various paths in life, but none of these paths, which people hold in such high esteem, can stave off the inevitable encroachment of old age. For instance, when he was young, Mr. Medbourne gave great importance to money, but now he has lost his fortune and is "little better than a mendicant," or beggar. Mr. Gascoigne was a notorious politician, but now, in his old age, he has been forgotten.

As for Colonel Killigrew, he represents someone who wasted his youth on "sinful pleasures" but gave no thought to the consequences; and now, in old age, he is unhealthy and disease-ridden.

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