Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 446
"The Sandman" is the story of a young boy who is terrorized and haunted by the monstrous Sandman. The narrator (who is the young boy as an adult) begins by telling the reader of his letter, a friend of his named Lothar, that something terrible happened to him as a...
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"The Sandman" is the story of a young boy who is terrorized and haunted by the monstrous Sandman. The narrator (who is the young boy as an adult) begins by telling the reader of his letter, a friend of his named Lothar, that something terrible happened to him as a child and that he has been haunted by it ever since.
The something terrible is the Sandman. He was, at first, only a "heavy, slow step" on the stairs. He always came at the same time, which coincides with when the children were sent to bed, and he always went to the father's room. The Sandman becomes a nightmarish, ghoulish figure, embellished by a child's imagination. He becomes "a frightful apparition" who haunts dreams. There are legends surrounding the Sandman, too, which describe
a wicked man, who comes to children when they will not go to bed, and throws a handful of sand into their eyes, so that they start out bleeding from their heads. These eyes he puts in a bag and carries . . . to feed his own children.
Later in the story the boy discovers that the Sandman is actually "the old advocate Coppelius," but this oddly doesn't diminish, the horror of his character—it actually exacerbates it. Coppelius forces the boy's father, each night, to take part in some kind of satanic ritual, and at one point in the story he gets ahold of the boy and throws him into a fire, determined to take out his eyes. At the end of the story, Coppelius disappears before the authorities can catch up with him. He reappears years later as a salesman at the boy's door, although the boy is now a young adult. This reappearance is the prompt which initiates the retrospective story of the Sandman.
Another important character is the boy's father. He tells "wonderful stories" to the children at nighttime and is, in ordinary circumstances, a kindly, genial father. However, Coppelius has some kind of hold over the father and haunts him as much as, or more than, he haunts the boy. By the end of the story, Coppelius murders the father, leaving him dead on the floor, "with his face burned and blackened, and hideously distorted."
The final main character in the story is the mother. She, like the father, is kindly and genial in ordinary circumstances but changes when Coppelius appears, when "her free and cheerful mind changed into a gloomy solemnity." The mother during the story tries to console and comfort the boy ("she kissed and embraced her . . . darling"), but in the end, she has little control over the situation. She becomes, after her husband's death, a "melancholy" figure.