Study Questions for Freud's "The Uncanny" [1919] and Hoffmann's "The Sandman" [1816]

In his essay on "The Uncanny," Sigmund Freud identifies multiple aspects of the concept. While we are not interested in his extended commentary on the castration complex or some of the other elements of his theories that seem not to directly apply to our study of science fiction, his discussions of the uncanny as reflective of our unconscious fears and desires and of "that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar" (428), as well as his comments on the "uncanny" as that which is "frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar" (429), do seem to directly apply to some of the fiction that we are reading. The concept of the double--especially as it is inflected with a "repetition compulsion" (439-440)--seems particularly relevant to the stories that Masri collects under the heading, "Artificial Life." As you review "The Sandman," consider some of the following issues:

  1. What is the role of the imagination vs. reality in the story? That is, to what extent are the events of the story primarily a product of Nathaniel's imagination?
  2. What kinds of gender issues govern Hoffmann's story? That is, how does the story expose early 19th century attitudes about gender roles and especially the nature of the feminine? What specific examples can you cite?
  3. In what passages do we see Freud's concept of a "repetition-compulsion" at work?
  4. To Freud the concept of the double is central to definitions of the uncanny and to a sense of what Masri says Darko Suvin called "cognitive estrangement" (428). How many examples of doubles can you identify in this story? Of course, Coppelius and Coppola are an obvious doubling related to Nathaniel's madness; what other doubles can you identify?