Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
E. T. A. Hoffmann’s tales call into question the nature of the artist and of art itself, or they provide puzzling views of a reality only imperfectly comprehended. They are grotesque parodies of the ideal of harmonious beauty in art and narrative fiction. Typical Hoffmann heroes are talented but obsessive. They cannot conform to society, and thus they are compelled to seek understanding in unnatural ways. They are crushed by society or find themselves utterly unable to discern where reality lies. They are swept along by forces that they cannot control and forced to participate in bizarre, irrational events. Yet, the reader is captivated by Hoffmann’s masterful storytelling. Ever the ironic humorist, he softens the harshness of his tragic vision with fantasy, wit, and humor.