Was Nathanael really just imagining things?

Reading the sandman, I pondered a lot about whether the account given by Nathanael about the sandman was real. I wondered a lot about whether those scenes of ‘memory’ were pieced together by his subconscious out of fear. As human, I think most of us would agree that we sometimes create our own versions of reality. We recall places we think we have been when we actually haven’t, or people in our lives that probably did not even exist. This phenomenon is what is termed Confabulation. According to Google, Confabulation is a ‘disturbance of memory’, when our sub-conscious fabricates memories. Basically, in short, we imagine things.

Confabulation is also known in a more contemporary sense as the Mandela effect. It was coined when a bunch of people misremembered the death of Nelson Mandela. They had, for some uncanny reason, a common memory of the Mandela’s death in the 1980s. (He died in 2013)

In lecture, we learned that our brains constantly strive to make sense of the things we see. This is why the technique of negative spaces in design works. Contrary to what our brains tell us, the picture below is not actually a picture of a cow. It is simply a picture of a few random shapes. What our brain does is make use of the space around these random shapes and conclude an image of a cow. (Taking a closer look, I am no longer seeing random shapes. How tricky, I now see a dog, rabbit, cat, and two other animals that I cannot make sense of)

(I can’t upload the image here due to copyright reasons, but you may check it out here)

As you can see, we are always seeking to rationalize what we see. Nathanael attempts to make sense of his father’s death and does not succeed. His father’s death clearly left an irreparable damage on him. His desire to identify the culprit of his father’s death was brought upon by his desire to put closure to it. Confabulation comes perfectly into place, a negative memory of sandman that justifies his accusation of the sandman. The sandman was made the scapegoat to his irrationalities. Therefore, I am rather skeptical about Nathanael’s account of the sandman because I think there is a possibility that Nathanael is falsely accusing poor sandman.

1 Thought.

  1. Very interesting point about negative space here! I actually had a very hard time seeing the cow until I forced myself to find it. I, too, saw a rabbit, a cat, and a dog. But it provides a good example of the point that our brains make things up to make sense of what is and is not there.

    I do agree it’s quite possible that Nathanael’s brain was making up most of his experiences. I read the story as leaving open that possibility, but also the one that he was actually right. It’s the ending that gives me that sense: the narrator speaks as if Coppelius actually does show up at the end and predicts that Nathanael will come down from the tower on his own. It is then that Nathanael falls into another fit and ends up jumping off the tower. Coppelius was really there, the narrator seems to be suggesting, and I took it that we were supposed to think of him as somewhat plaguing Nathanael throughout his life. But it’s possible he just is some old man who isn’t as evil as Nathanael thought.

    This story ties me up in knots of confusion a bit because there are multiple ways to read what is happening and the author does not give us a final answer!

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