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Published: 11-11-2019

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Symbolism of Eyes in “The Sandman”

In “The Sandman” by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Nathanael composes a letter to his fiancée’s brother Lothar recalling the terror of the legendary Sandman who would steal the eyes of youngsters who wouldn’t go to bed and feed them to his personal young children in the moon. From then on in the brief story, any mention of eyes drives him to keep in mind the terror of the Sandman. In a most terrifying expertise, Nathanael sees Olimpia, the girl he is going to propose to who later turns out to be a robot, lying on the ground with her eyes removed. He becomes hysteric and in his state of insanity is taken to an asylum. Of central importance is the theme of “eyes”, which symbolizes narcissism and the struggles some have coping with stress, and in a much more distinct sense, Sigmund Freud interprets this theme as the worry of castration.

The climax of the quick story is where Nathanael sees Olimpia, his muse, with her eyes removed, and Coppelius (which signifies “eye cavities” in Italian), the one who ripped them out. His childhood nightmares return as he realizes Olimpia was only a reflection of himself, that he had imposed his soul into her so that she was almost everything he ever wanted, even though she was not true. Nathanael’s struggles with reality and his obsession with “pretty eyes” reveals his narcissistic nature with that, Hoffmann creates a satire of society. These pretty eyes result in him to fall out of enjoy with his fiancé Clara and in enjoy with Olimpia, a girl he thinks is excellent and with whom he could have whatever he wanted. Hoffmann is criticizing society in that individuals are always looking for perfection in others when they are not best themselves. He criticizes the style and beauty industries and society by saying that what we have fallen in love with the beautiful models and the wealthy lifestyles we strive for that we cannot have. We fall in love with images we produce in our heads, and become controlled by the worry of our nightmares. We have lost touch with reality, just as Nathanael did.

Freud, on the other hand, draws on a entirely different aspect of the story, believing that Olimpia, who is seemingly true but really not, is not the central focus of the story. Freud, in his essay “Uncanny,” describes the symbolism of “being robbed of one’s eyes” as the most uncanny, important aspect of the tale. He cites the occasions exactly where Nathanael is forced to relive the same moments, retrace the same measures, as becoming robbed of his eyesight, which Freud sees as a symbolic worry of castration. The fear of going blind, Freud says, is the substitute for being castrated. He references Greek mythology and the blinding of Oedipus, which was a mitigated form of castration, as proof. Freud’s beliefs often appear to be a stretch at very first, but he has the literary background to be able to prove any theory he has, and it seems like he is spot on with this 1. With the main focus of really like by Nathanael, the worry of Coppelius, a massive and malformed man who haunts him from his childhood, it seems very attainable that Nathanael could have witnessed a castration as a child, perhaps one particular that caused the death of his father, or feared getting castrated himself, which brought on his trauma and tore the fabric of his thoughts that kept him in touch with reality. It would aid explain the reason that he is capable to fall in love with a robot or try to throw Clara off a bridge, or finally kill himself just at the sight of Coppelius, or at the thought of “pretty eyes.”

Due to Nathanael’s psychological issues, Hoffman does not permit the reader to have a full grasp on what is genuinely incorrect with Nathanael, which is also why Freud’s theory of the symbolism of the eyes succeeds. Hoffman truly leaves it up to the person reader to make a decision what is wrong with Nathanael. At the time it was written, it seems to many critics that Hoffman may have been speaking out against the Enlightenment and Romantic thinkers of the time. In today’s society, that critique can be adapted to the media market, which is often attempting to distort reality with commercials and slogans of what the ideal man, woman, or society need to be.

“The Sandman” is an abstract story from start to finish, and it captures the reader with its potential to make a plot that is completely fantastical appear like it could truly take place. Hoffmann’s character of Nathanael is troubled by his previous, and Olimpia is presented as a real woman right until the end, so the reader does not know that Nathanael is crazy until then. Throughout the story even though, the motif of the “eyes” that are constantly watching, that are missing, or the ones that fascinate Nathanael is what gradually brings the reader to the climax, the critique on society, and the theme of the story. When the story concludes, the watching eyes as a symbol arrives at the forefront as the undeniable, uncanny, central focus of the story, and not Nathanael and his undeniable love for himself or his inability to get in touch with reality.
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