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Just a Taste of Everything that is Confusing about The Sandman

I think everyone here can agree that there’s really no possible way to entirely wrap our heads around this story but like intellectual buffoons we’re going to try. Here’s what’s got me all twisted – what happened to Nathanael’s eyes and whether he is human or automaton. I mean, what is going on, really? Let’s break it down.

Coppelius supposedly lets Nathanael keep his eyes at the plea of his father (47) but later on we Spalanzani throw Nathanael’s eyes at his chest (95). Interestingly enough, these were the same eyes that animated Olimpia, or so we understand from Spalanzani.

Question is, are these physical eyes or a metaphor for insight? Olimpia functioning on Nathanael’s eyes would make more sense in a literal sense but if she’s had his literal eyes all this time, we can’t exactly explain how Nathanael’s been walking around with these ‘black cavities’ (47) (95) in his head that this story loves to keep bringing up (that one gets the award of most morbid motif in Arts One Term 1, I’ll get chip in for the trophy). If they’re metaphorical, it would make more sense in Nathanael’s case, because we can see he has succumbed to paranoia and infidelity, loosing his sense of self. But again, Olimpia can’t be functioning on insight, especially since she seems to have none as her eyes are ‘devoid of the power to see’ (89) and all she can contribute in terms imparting insight is her repeating “ah!” (I think we got her point the first time). So, either explanation seems flawed in at least one way.

Now, that’s not even the tip of the iceberg concerning our troubles with the main character. We don’t even know if this man is human or automaton. Coppelius unscrews Nathanael’s limbs and mixes and matches them (47) as if he was an automaton but what’s even more interesting and perhaps not discussed at all is Coppelius’ comments while doing so. He says, “They’re best the way they were!– The old man knew what he was doing!” Who is this old man?

If he was talking about Nathanael’s creator, and this seems to be the case, that would rationally be Nathanael’s father but Coppelius speaking in third person suggests that he doesn’t believe that to be the case, because Nathanael’s father was right in the room and very much capable of being addressed directly. So, could it be that Nathanael is an automaton created by someone else and only Coppelius is aware of it, or perhaps Nathanael’s father as well? This might explain why Coppelius chose to kill Nathanael’s father, perhaps the father wasn’t comfortable with the secret – wanting to share it with his wife or Nathanael himself. Another thing that people don’t talk about is Coppelius’ sudden urge to murder the man after a year of radio silence on his part; perhaps this is because not much is known about the father and while Coppelius is definitely a more significant character he’s still just as mysterious if not more. Regardless of these unsolvable questions, Nathanael being an automaton might explain his attraction to Olimpia even when his peers seemed to see through her.

But Nathanael shown to have ‘inner warmth’ that ignites his cheeks and he is seen with ‘tears pouring from his eyes’ (73) so this seems to go against that theory. In this case, Nathanael’s fascination with Olimpia might be explained by Coppola’s eye glass that twisted his perception of her and made it seem like ‘her power of vision had been ignited’ though he had found her to be rigid and cold initially as his peers had.

So, yeah those would be my thoughts for the week. A penny for yours?

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