I need to write a response paper on the short story "The Sandman" by German writer E. T. A. Hoffman in which I describe two instances of doubles or repeated events or scenes, where events,...

I need to write a response paper on the short story "The Sandman" by German writer E. T. A. Hoffman in which I describe two instances of doubles or repeated events or scenes, where events, characters or scenes seem to repeat themselves, perhaps a repetition with a slight difference. I'm a bit lost. Can you help me get started with this?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hoffman's dark and malicious story has several devices for what Freud called the development of the "uncanny," one of which is repetition of the same thing, like retracing steps taken, recurring numbers, repeated words, repeated associations between characters and events or physical traits, or repeated end results, most notably, death. These qualities that Freud described as uncanny and that Otto Rank included in his concept of "the double" give the mood of uncertainty and incredulity to Hoffman's celebrated story.

One of these doubles is the end result of Nathanael’s family's encounter with Coppelius: death, his father's and his own. One of the most notable instances of uncanny doubles is the repetition of words about and instances relating to eyes.

When Nathanael was a boy hiding in his father's work room, he hears the evil Coppelius shout, "Eyes here, eyes here!" When Nathanael encounters Coppelius again at the rooms where he lodges while at university, he hears Coppelius, now Coppola, say, "pretty eyes, pretty eyes!" This is an instance of uncanny repetition that is made more inscrutably uncanny through a slight variation in the repetition.

After Nathanael has been psychologically unsettled by his encounters with Coppola, whom he instinctively recognizes as Coppelius, he dreams of his marriage to Clara. The dream is made maliciously uncanny when Clara's eyes burn red, spring "like bloody sparks" into his chest, then throw him into a turning circle of fire.

This dream is doubled, with differences, when Nathanael interrupts the violent argument between Coppola and Spalanzani then sees Olimpia's bloodied eyes on the floor. It is doubled again when, after having attacked Clara for his view of her, seemingly, fire spewing eyes, Nathanael runs madly around the tower top crying "Turn, circle of fire!" before throwing himself onto what appears to be Coppelius in the crowd below with the cry, "pretty eyes, pretty eyes!"

According to the poem, at their marriage Coppelius touched Clara’s eyes, which sprang into Nathanael’s chest “like bloody sparks,” and then threw Nathanael into a rapidly turning circle of fire.

birker7 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ideas of doubling and the uncanny are inextricably bound to one another. In fact, Freud even cites Hoffman’s character Olympia the doll as an exemplary instance of the uncanny in his famous essay on the subject. While the primary instance of doubling occurs in the relationship between The Sandman, Coppelius, and Coppola, the theme encompasses Olympia as well.

Clara can be read as a corresponding character to Olympia. This doubling does not occur in quite the same way as the doubling between Coppelius and Coppola, which is a phenomenon perceived by Nathanael himself. The doubling of Clara and Olympia creates dramatic irony because Nathanael is unaware of it. In Clara’s first letter, she writes that she knows Nathaneal thinks she has "a cold disposition, impenetrable to every ray of the mysterious." Nathaneal later calls Clara "an inanimate, accursed automaton." Nathaneal’s opinions of Clara link her to Olympia in that they attribute doll-like, lifeless qualities to the living woman, while he is infatuated with the actually lifeless object. 

The general theme of a confusion between what is organic and living and what is mechanical and lifeless is present throughout the story, with the idea of Olympia as its primary manifestation. This is evident in Nathaneal’s childhood recollection of having his hands and feet screwed off and then on again by Coppelius, who first exclaims "...we will examine the mechanism of his hands and feet!"

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The Sandman

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