Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment

Water Symbol Icon

At the center of the story is the vase full of water from the Fountain of Youth. The water, which makes those who drink it temporarily young again, is a symbol of the fleeting and precarious nature of youth. Hawthorne argues in the story that youth is inseparable from foolish behavior—behavior that can permanently ruin one’s life, as seen with the experiment’s subjects. Therefore, when the subjects knock the vase over and spill the water, Hawthorne calls attention to the risks inherent to youthful folly. In addition, it’s significant that the water comes from a fabled source—the Fountain of Youth—that the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon sought for many years but never found. This echoes the ways in which the subjects of the experiment are consumed by a desire to regain their youth, and the association between the water and the Fountain of Youth frames the subjects’ desire to be young again as delusion. Finally, the water, which is served in champagne glasses, is described as effervescent and sweetly intoxicating, which creates a strong symbolic association with alcoholic drinks. This association underscores that youth, like drunkenness, is fleeting, foolish, and even dangerous. Indeed, the story ends with the four subjects of Dr. Heidegger’s experiment deciding to travel together to Florida to find the Fountain of Youth so they can drink from it eternally—as if “hungover” from the drunken revelry of their youth, and addicted to experiencing it again.

Water Quotes in Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment

The Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment quotes below all refer to the symbol of Water. 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:
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment published in 2011.
Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment Quotes

“Before you drink, my respectable old friends,” said he, “it would be well that, with the experience of a lifetime to direct you, you should draw up a few general rules for your guidance, in passing a second time through the perils of youth. Think what a sin and shame it would be, if, with your peculiar advantages, you should not become patterns of virtue and wisdom to all the young people of the age!”

The doctor's four venerable friends made him no answer, except by a feeble and tremulous laugh; so very ridiculous was the idea that, knowing how closely repentance treads behind the steps of error, they should ever go astray again.

“Drink, then,” said the doctor, bowing: “I rejoice that I have so well selected the subjects of my experiment.”

Related Characters: Widow Wycherly, Mr. Medbourne , Colonel Killigrew , Mr. Gascoigne
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Yet, by a strange deception, owing to the duskiness of the chamber, and the antique dresses which they still wore, the tall mirror is said to have reflected the figures of the three old, gray, withered grandsires, ridiculously contending for the skinny ugliness of a shrivelled grandam.

Related Characters: Widow Wycherly, Mr. Medbourne , Colonel Killigrew , Mr. Gascoigne
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id Lorem iLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

“Yes, friends, ye are old again,” said Dr. Heidegger, “and lo! the Water of Youth is all lavished on the ground. Well—I bemoan it not; for if the fountain gushed at my very doorstep, I would not stoop to bathe my lips in it—no, though its delirium were for years instead of moments. Such is the lesson ye have taught me!”

Related Characters: Dr. Heidegger (speaker), Widow Wycherly, Mr. Medbourne , Colonel Killigrew , Mr. Gascoigne
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Water Symbol Timeline in Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water appears in Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Reality and Illusion Theme Icon
...center of Dr. Heidegger’s study is a black table with a glass vase full of water sitting on it. The sun strikes the vase and refracts its light onto the ashen... (full context)
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Science and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Reality and Illusion Theme Icon
...face could “bloom” again. But when Dr. Heidegger puts the rose in the vase of water, it slowly comes back to life. His audience, however, is unimpressed; they remark that they... (full context)
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Science and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Reality and Illusion Theme Icon
...is in Florida, overshadowed by ancient magnolias, and an acquaintance of his has sent him water from it, which now sits in the vase on the table. (full context)
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Science and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Reality and Illusion Theme Icon
Mistakes and Morality Theme Icon
Not believing Dr. Heidegger’s story, Colonel Killigrew asks what effect the water has on the human body. Dr. Heidegger responds by saying “You shall judge for yourself,”... (full context)
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Science and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Reality and Illusion Theme Icon
Dr. Heidegger fills the four champagne glasses with the water of the Fountain of Youth. The “liquor” is effervescent and has a sweet fragrance, and... (full context)
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Science and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Reality and Illusion Theme Icon
The four miserable, old friends drink the first glass of water, and immediately their spirits are lifted, just as they would have been by a glass... (full context)
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Reality and Illusion Theme Icon
The four friends drink their second glass of the water. Instantly, their whole bodies seem younger, their hair grows darker, and suddenly they are all... (full context)
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Mistakes and Morality Theme Icon
The friends’ behavior seems to prove that the water is at least slightly intoxicating. Mr. Gascoigne begins muttering nonsense about politics, though it’s not... (full context)
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Mistakes and Morality Theme Icon
The four friends drink their third glass of the water, which turns them into a group of “merry youngsters.” An “exuberant frolicsomeness” overtakes them, and... (full context)
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Mistakes and Morality Theme Icon
...shuffle, they overturn the table at the center of the room, dashing the vase of water onto the floor. The spilled water wets the wings of a dying butterfly, giving it... (full context)
Youth, Old Age, and Death Theme Icon
Reality and Illusion Theme Icon
...whether it’s true, and Dr. Heidegger confirms that they are, in fact, old again. The water that made them young had an effect “more transient than that of wine.” (full context)