Last Updated 20 Apr 2022

The Sandman

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E. T. A. Hoffmann's "The Sandman" illuminates Freud's theory of the Uncanny. Freud’s understanding of Nathaniel in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman” is that the Nathaniel’s “madman” like actions are the result of the return of his suppressed juvenile material. Nathaniel is the protagonist and is convinced that a frightful destiny awaits him. His fear focuses on a threatening old man whom he has understood since infantile to be the “Sandman”, a monster who takes away the eyes of children who are awake at night. He connects the “sandman” with Coppelius, a colleague of his father and he incriminates Coppelius in his father's death.

As an adult, Nathaniel madness is triggered after having a visitor from what he believes to be the “sandman” whom in reality is a salesman named Coppola. Freud uses E. T. A Hoffmans “The Sandman” to describe the idea of repression of childhood complexes. E. T. A. Hoffmann's "The Sandman" is believed to be “uncanny” by Freud. Nathaniel believes in the evil “sand-man” from his childhood. He is not completely mature and has trouble growing up throughout the story. His fiancee Clara tries to help and tell not to let his stories get to him but it only maddens him.

Nathaniel wants people to feed into his stories but his stories drive him to be a mad man. He is sent away to recuperate at an asylum. He meets a man named Coppola who he believes to be the evil Coppelius/ sandman. Nathaniel ends up realizing that he is just a man who sells glasses and buys a pair off of him. While he is away he falls “in love” with an inanimate object named Olimpia and forgets about his fiancee Clara. “ But then he had never had such a perfect listener. ” He loves the way Olimpia just sit there and listens to his stories, he falls for her womanly shaped figure. Her beautifully molded features and her shapely figure compelled general admirations. ” Nathaniel ends up destroying Olimipa, which can serve as one of his alter egos, his narcissistic side. He remembers about his lovely Clara and gets “better” he goes back home to his family but Nathaniel is not better. Clara ends up bringing up a gray bush that she spots which reminds him of the sandman and drives him mad again. He attempts to kill Clara and then ends up jumping and killing himself as well as his alter ego Coppelius.

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As people began to climb the stairs in order to seixe the lunatic, Coppelius laughed and said: “Ha, ha- just wait, he’ll soon come down soon by himself” and looked up, like the others. Suddenly Nathanael paused and stood stock still, he went down. Suddenly Nathanael paused and stood stock still he went down perceived Coppelius, and, with a piercing shriek of Beautiful eyes-a! Beautiful eyes- a! ’ he jumped over the parapet. By the time Nathanael was lying on the pavement, his head shattered, Coppelius had vanished into the throng. 118) Coppelius can be read to be an alter-ego of Nathanael; the way Hoffman states that Coppelius just vanishes once Nathanael hits the ground makes it seems as if now that Nathanael is not alive neither is the story of the “sandman” Freud does not believe that the sandman or Olimpia are Nathaniel’s alter-egos. He has other interpretations about what is wrong with Nathaniel. Freud believes that Nathanael’s obsession with the sandman and Olimpia is what someone experiences in adulthood that was repressed from their earlier stages in life.

Nathaniel was told the story of the sandman as a little child by his old nurse: don’t you know yet? He’s a wicked man who comes to children when they don’t want to go to bed and throws handfuls of sand into their eyes; that makes their eyes fill blood and jump out of their heads and he throws the eyes into his bag and takes them into the cresent moon to feed his own children (87) Freud believes that this story triggered the instability of the psych while Nathaniel was young.

In the Uncanny Freud states “everything that ought to have remained hidden and secret, and yet comes to light,” (7) Whenever something reminds Nathaniel of the sandman it triggers him to turn into a “madman” and he gets lost in his own world. There are different causes that trigger one to go mad. Freud believes that one of the main sources of “uncanny” has to do with the idea of one being robbed of their eyes. “ Oedipus that mythical-lawbreaker was simply carrying out a mitigated for of punishment of castration. Freud believes Nathaniel was afraid of castration not just loosing his eyes since many cherish both. Oedipus links with Nathanael, both were afraid of loosing a part of them that they both treasure. Nathanael also treasures his mother. Nathaniel seems to only see his mother as “good”, she is the one who protects them and the one that does not want the sandman in the house. “my mother, kissing and cuddling her darling boy who was thus restored to life. ” (91) Nathanael has an attachment to his mother.

Nathaniel appears to not like his father and see him as the “bad” parent. “I was comforted by the realization that his alliance with the devilish Coppelius could not have plunged him into eternal perdition. ” (92) It could be because the father continues to allow the sandman in their home. Freud believes that nothing is ever forgotten and it just stays suppressed in one’s mind until something triggers one to remember. Nathanael’s suppressed memories make his narcissist.

The “double” is the primary source of narcissism in a child. Only in Olimpia’s love do I recognize myself” “Olimpia had voiced his own thoughts. ” This is where Nathaniel’s narcissism returns; Olimipa is a reflection of himself. “ The idea of the “double” does not necessarily disappear with the passing of the primary narcissism, for it can receive fresh meaning from the later sages of development of the ego” (10) Olimpia is the re-birth of Nathaniel’s narcissism ways in which he begins again to be self-absorbed.

The Sandman by ETA Hoffman is one of the most well known short stories throughout history. It is very unusual to other short stories. Whether we all agree with Freuds interpretation of the story, Freud makes some good arguments on why the narrator is the way he is. Nathaniel is a troubled individual who ends up taking his own life. No matter which way you take the story he ends up still being a madman.

The Sandman essay

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