Dr. Heidegger's Experiment

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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What effect did Dr. Heidegger's youth water have on his friends?

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Dr. Heidegger’s friends have all experienced great difficulties in their lives, as most people generally have. Mr. Medbourne lost all his riches to a “frantic speculation” and now lives almost like a beggar; Colonel Killigrew lived quite the extravagant life, indulging in “sinful pleasures," and now suffers from ill health; Mr. Gascoigne has a foul reputation as a politician; and widow Wycherly’s past scandalous relationships still haunt her to date.

Dr. Heidegger’s water of youth, just as the name suggests, transforms things into a state of youthfulness. The doctor himself prefers to observe rather than participate in the experiment meant to find out the effect of the liquid on humans, for, as he says, “he has had so much trouble in growing old that he is in no hurry to grow young again.”

Immediately after partaking of the liquid, the visitors experience great physical changes of their bodies. They become brighter, more cheerful; there is “a healthful suffusion on their cheeks,” and they become almost youths again. However, these physical changes are not accompanied by a renewed outlook on life. For instance, all the visitors are keener on the fleeting physical attributes of youthfulness than on the opportunities that it brings to them, allowing them to correct past mistakes. Again, all of them do the same things they did in their youth: Mr. Gascoigne talks without end on various frivolous political issues, not deviating much from what he was in his youth; the colonel is flirtatious; Mr. Medbourne is busy thinking about another risky business venture in the East Indies; and the widow is so in awe of her beauty that she cannot pull herself away from the mirror.

When they finally realize that the changes brought about by the water of youth are impermanent, they decide to themselves visit the Fountain of Youth, to forever partake of its waters.

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Dr. Heidegger's water of youth did bring back their youth, temporarily.  However, it didn't afford them the opportunities they had counted on.  Most people say that if they could go back in time and do something over, they would do it differently.  Avoid rash decisions, regain missed opportunities, and right unrightable wrongs.  Dr. Heidegger's friends instead, make all the same mistakes they did previously.  They made the same rash decisions.  The missed the same opportunities.  They failed to right past wrongs.  They repeated the past as if they hadn't experienced it. 

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