This story is told with a first-person narrator who refers to himself or herself as ‘‘I’’ several times. This technically makes the narrator a character in the story, even though readers are never given any details about who this person might be. The narrator can, for the sake of simplicity, be identified with the author and thus referred to as ‘‘he,’’ but this is simply a convention, and the narrator could be female.
Unlike an omniscient (all-knowing) narrator, who can give details about anything related to the story, this first-person narrator is limited in what information is available to him. He does not know, for instance, whether the doctor really conversed with the bust of Hippocrates in his study, but attributes this information to others. Similarly, the narrator does not know whether the doctor’s deceased patients really appear in his mirror, saying that these reports are ‘‘fabled.’’ Even regarding such an important matter as whether or not the four people who drank the water actually became young, the narrator has a limited perspective. He can say what they looked like, as if he is in the room with them and is hampered by the dim lighting, but he cannot say definitively whether their transformation is real or not. Although the first-person narrator is not mentioned as being a sixth person in the doctor’s study that night, he relates facts as if he were. He knows local gossip, but he does not have any inside perspective on what goes on in Dr. Heidegger’s mind.
Gothic fiction is a distinctive style of writing that arose in Europe in the eighteenth century and reached the height of its popularity in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century. Critics trace its source back to British author Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto and it carried on through the works of Anne Radcliffe Wollstonecraft Shelley, whose work Frankenstein is considered a prime example. In the United States, Charles Brockden Brown is viewed as the earliest practitioner of the form, but Gothic fiction is invariably associated with the tales of Edgar Allan Poe.
Several characteristics are associated with Gothic literature. Stories often occur at night and include frightening elements that were as cliche´ d in the eighteenth century as they are in the twenty-first, such as bats, castles, skeletons, and mad scientists. The line between natural law and supernatural occurrences is often unclear, and ghosts are common. One of the most consistent elements of Gothic literature is the association of residence with resident: the unusual aspects of a house or castle (or, in the case of ‘‘Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,’’ study) are meant to reflect the unusual elements of its owner’s mind.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Published by Gale Group, 2010