Author Archives: sessen stephanos

The Discomfort of Uncertainty

In Hoffmann’s The Sandman, one of the most obvious aspects of the story that is brought to our attention is how much uncertainty the reader has about the events occurring in the story. The story depicts a young university student who is haunted by the memory of certain childhood events connected to the events of his father’s death. He is haunted by the seemingly malicious figure of Coppelius and it gradually sends him spiraling into psychological madness.

Personally as I read this story, it was noticeably chaotic. Although the narrator of the story is not Nathaniel himself, there is no sense of understanding the true events of what was occurring. At some point when I was reading the story, it was almost as if Nathaniel’s insanity was epidemic. There line between humans and automatons became blurry. It was hard to discern what was real and what was a hallucination. Even as we read about how Nathaniel falls madly in love with Olympia, his feelings feel so real that we begin to question the basis of their relationship. I found it deeply unsettling to read a story through this perspective. It had me reflect on personal dreams or imaginations that evoked a strong emotional response and the basis of where they stemmed from.  Hoffmann alters the structure of the story to emphasize the uncertainty that the uncanny creates. I think that Hoffmann successfully proves a point; Humans are incredibly responsive to the concept of uncertainty. On some fundamental level, humans are deeply bothered by what they do not know, on what they can not understand. I think that this short story did a really incredible job of portraying that.

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