Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment


Nathaniel Hawthorne

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment makes teaching easy.

Magic Book Symbol Analysis

Magic Book Symbol Icon

Dr. Heidegger’s dark and dusty study is filled with books (just like a real doctor’s office) as well as enchanted items, the “greatest curiosity” of which is a large, black, leather-bound book. This book, which has no lettering or discernible title, is nevertheless “well known to be a book of magic.” Although books are generally associated with knowledge and reason (and therefore science), this book is immediately and clearly associated with the supernatural (Dr. Heidegger removes from the book’s pages a wilted rose and places it in a vase of water, causing the rose to magically bloom). As the book is associated with both science and magic, it is emblematic of the blending of science and the supernatural that characterizes the story as a whole. This combination seems paradoxical, in large part because Dr. Heidegger is portrayed as a wise and moral character, while the blending of magic and science in an experiment would have been considered sinister by nineteenth century readers, and it also raises serious ethical questions about haphazard experimentation on human subjects. Furthermore, the contents of the book itself remain a mystery to readers and characters alike, and the narrator repeats a rumor that when a chambermaid tried opening the book, the multitude of enchanted objects in the study came to life to chasten her, and the bust of Hippocrates grew stern, telling her to “Forebear” (meaning, essentially, “Cut it out”). Therefore, the book is not only a symbol of the role that magic plays in Dr. Heidegger’s medical practice, but also of the sinister mystery that enshrouds his use of magic. Indeed, Heidegger himself is in many ways a “closed book”—an inscrutable figure, who, like his magic book, embodies a seemingly paradoxical blend of science and the supernatural.

Get the entire Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment LitChart as a printable PDF.
Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment PDF

Magic Book Symbol Timeline in Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment

The timeline below shows where the symbol Magic Book appears in Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment
Science and the Supernatural Theme Icon
...entire study is a large, black, leather-bound book that was “well known to be a book of magic. ” Once, when a chambermaid touched the book, the objects in the study came to... (full context)
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Science and the Supernatural Theme Icon
...Heidegger, without waiting for their response to his question of whether they consent, fetches the magic book off his shelf, and takes from among its pages a withered rose, which is very... (full context)