Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment: Satire 2 key examples

Definition of Satire
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of satire, but satirists can take... read full definition
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of... read full definition
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians... read full definition
Satire
Explanation and Analysis—Satire of Politicians :

Upon their transformation, Dr. Heidegger's elderly acquaintances quickly resume the follies of their youth. Hawthorne uses the figure of Mr. Gascoigne, a disgraced former politician, to satirize the falsehoods of politics and politicians:

Mr. Gascoigne’s mind seemed to run on political topics, but whether relating to the past, present, or future, could not easily be determined, since the same ideas and phrases have been in vogue these fifty years. Now he rattled forth full-throated sentences about patriotism, national glory, and the people’s right; now he muttered some perilous stuff or other, in a sly and doubtful whisper, so cautiously that even his own conscience could scarcely catch the secret; and now, again, he spoke in measured accents, and a deeply deferential tone, as if a royal ear were listening to his well-turned periods.

In this scene, the reader is given a brief glimpse into Mr. Gascoigne's past as a politician, and he appears to have matched the stereotype of a stereotypically dishonest politician very well. He alternates, in quick succession, from boastful public speech, whispered political intrigue, and "deeply deferential" flattery. There is no indication that Mr. Gascoigne holds any genuine political ideals, and it's easy to see how his career ended in disgrace. The narrator's tone is satirical and mocking when describing the meaningless, "full-throated" patriotic cliche, and even the verb choices used by the narrator here are condescending, from "rattled forth" to "muttered." 

Hawthorne casts his satirical net beyond the figure of Mr. Gascoigne, implicating politicians more broadly in his critique. The narrator confesses that he can't tell if Mr. Gascoigne's speech relates "to the past, present, or future," as "the same ideas and phrases have been in vogue these fifty years." If politicians have been making the same arguments and debating the same issues for half of a century, Hawthorne suggests, then little political progress has actually been achieved by politicians in all that time. 

Explanation and Analysis—Satire of Business:

Just as Hawthorne satirizes politics through the figure of the disgraced former politician Mr. Gascoigne, he similarly satirizes financial speculation through the former merchant and businessman Mr. Medbourne. 

On the other side of the table, Mr. Medbourne was involved in a calculation of dollars and cents, with which was strangely intermingled a project for supplying the East Indies with ice, by harnessing a team of whales to the polar icebergs.

Mr. Medbourne, the narrator notes at the beginning of the story, was once a successful merchant, but he lost his fortune through "frantic speculation"—or, in other words, through financial investments in unsuccessful business ventures. Upon having his youth restored to him, he immediately begins to engage in the sort of frenzied speculation that cost him so much in his earlier life, devising an implausible plan to import ice (a highly valuable commodity in the 19th century) from the Arctic to Asia using whales as a mode of transport. The absurd and unfeasible nature of this plan reflects Mr. Medbourne's poor business sense—it's easy to see how he lost so much money the first time—as well as how little he has learned from his past mistakes. In presenting the ridiculous Mr. Medbourne as a representative of the business world, Hawthorne also offer a deeply satirical view on the financial landscape, which he suggests operates without regard to common sense in its zeal for profit.

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