“The Sandman”, analysis of the novel by Hoffmann

One of the most famous novel by E.T.A. Hoffmann was born in November 1815. The first edition of the work was slightly different from the second one, sent to the publisher Georg Reimer on November 24 and included in the collection of Night Stories in 1817: the devilish influence of Coppelius had a more comprehensive, physical nature and related not only to the main character – Nathanel, but also his beloved – Clara, who at first blinded by the touch of an old lawyer, and then died. Leaving Coppelius to work only on the soul of Nathanel, Hoffmann gave the novel great psychologicality and, at the same time, the inexplicable mysticism of what was happening.

The title of the work is associated with the folklore West European image of Sandman: in the interpretation of Nathanael’s mother, this is a beautiful metaphor, which she explains the process of “eye contamination” before going to bed; in the understanding of the old nanny, this is a real evil creature that throws sand in the eyes of naughty children so that they pour blood, then hides them (children) in a bag and carries it to the moon, in an owl’s nest, to their offspring, which are crooked beaks completely deprive kids of sight. Nathanael, in her childhood, takes the old woman’s story for the truth. He begins to get involved in everything wonderful and mysterious. Over time, the hero realizes that Sandman is not exactly what they say about him, and ceases to connect his childhood fears with an unknown character who comes to his father at nine in the evening.

Growing up of Nathanael allows him to go beyond the mystical perception of the world, but shows his unpreparedness to comprehend the real world: at ten, the boy witnesses strange actions performed by his father and old lawyer Koppelius, is mortally frightened of the latter and spends several weeks in fever. New children’s fears are explained (by the hero, author, Clara) to the real rejection of the vile guest, who has both a terrible appearance and terrible manners, one of which is the desire to specially touch children’s sweets, knowing that after that the kids will not be able to touch them. Actions incomprehensible to Nathaniel (later Clara will find out from a friend the pharmacist that it was a question of alchemy) and the transformation of the father during them, in the person of which there appears something satanic, making him look like Coppelius, are associated in the mind of the main character with the attack on him by an old lawyer and death father – all that can create the most terrible life experiences in humans.

From the point of view of psychology, Nathanael, who received a severe psychological trauma, bears its destructive effect throughout his youth (while studying in Georgia). From the point of view of plot events, everything looks a little different, but, as is often the case with Hoffmann, it can have at least two interpretations: fantastic and real.

The second meeting between Nathanael and Coppelius takes place outside the walls of his home. The old lawyer is introduced to the hero at the beginning by the seller of barometers, and then by the Piedmontese mechanic Coppola, who sells a variety of optical instruments (lornets, glasses, telescopes, etc.). Faced nose to nose with a devilish creature, Nathanael is horrified and begins to foresee his imminent death. At first, he holds on thanks to Clara, who considers his fears – empty bullshit, Lotaru – who offers not to let unnecessary emotions into his soul, Professor Spalanzani, who confirms Coppola’s Italian origin, and therefore the lack of communication between him and the German Coppelius. Nathanael even takes a step towards Coppole, who puts a pocket spyglass in his hands, which has become another bridge on the way to final death.

The rapprochement between Nathanael and Olympia begins with a very real event – a fire that happened in the house where the main character rented a room. What served as the main one for the disaster is not indicated in the short story. We only know that the student’s friends managed to save his books and manuscripts and rent a new room, just opposite the windows of Professor Spalanzani. So Nathanael had a wonderful, but explained by a real reason, opportunity to see beautiful Olympia. Coppola’s telescope brought closer the object of interest to the student, but, contrary to the real properties of the subject, showed an automatic mechanism in the form of a living person. The more Nathanael looked at Olympia through a devilish device, the more he fell in love with her. In just three days, everyone who was dear to him, Klara, mother, Lothar, left the heart of the young man. Nathanael even nearly had a fight with his best friend Sigmund, who dared to emphasize the mechanism of Olympia’s behavior – her measured gait, her even, beautiful voice.

Nathanael’s passionate love for Olympia is a classic expression of man’s diabolical blindness. Despite the fact that the young man periodically catches himself on the coldness of his lover’s hands and lips, on her laconicism, on her strange behavior, he still can not back down from his feeling, which is really nothing more than selfishness. In a sense, Nathanael falls in love with a soulless automaton by virtue of her own character: he likes to be listened to without interruption; when from everything he said they are delighted; when he sees in his beloved a reflection of his own soul and nothing more.

The cheerful, cheerful, judicious Clara seems to Nathanael, immersed in mystical moods, cold, soulless, who does not understand him special. As soon as the hero comes to his senses, the true lover again becomes close to his heart. Clara’s fate is beautiful: the girl experiences the attempt on life, madness and the death of Nathanael, but finds the strength to marry and live in happiness and contentment with her husband and two sons. The main character does not stand the madness and dies.

The motif of the automaton, expressed in the terrible conclusion that the mechanical / dead is indistinguishable from the natural / spiritual, is closely connected in the novel with a symbolic image of the eyes, which are a reflection of both the soul of a person and his life. As a child, Nathanael is afraid for her eyes (Sandman, Coppelius); in his youth – he falls in love with the artificial eyes of Olympia. Attacks of madness visit the hero every time there is a danger of loss of vision (Coppelius threat to tear out his eyes, Olympia’s torn eyes, use of Coppola’s telescope).

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