Half a century before the action of the story, Dr. Heidegger’s fiancée gave him a rose to wear to their wedding. She died the night before the wedding, though, and he has preserved the rose within the pages of his magic book ever since. The rose, a token of Dr. Heidegger’s youth and loss, seems at first to be a symbol of his longing for the past: it’s the first thing he revives with the water from the Fountain of Youth, which suggests a desire to recapture old times. However, Hawthorne reverses the reader’s expectation. When the rose begins to wilt again, Dr. Heidegger does not mourn the symbolism of his youth becoming distant—he simply remarks that he loves the rose as much in its wilted state as in its “dewy freshness.” The rose, then, becomes symbolic of Dr. Heidegger’s acceptance—and even appreciation—of the passage of time and its effects. This, Hawthorne suggests, is the wisest attitude towards aging. Unlike Widow Wycherly, who says that she would rather be dead than old and unattractive, Dr. Heidegger has learned to accept the withered rose, and, by extension, himself in old age.
The Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment quotes below all refer to the symbol of Rose. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment published in 2011.).
The timeline below shows where the symbol Rose appears in Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment