The Sandman

Essentialist Feminism in The Sandman College

E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman” could easily be read as a satire that rails against meek, docile women. However, when looking at the form of feminism in this story, one finds that the protagonist Nathaniel seems to struggle with an abstract mind, while the women who surround him are focused on the material world. The women he grew up with, namely his mother and fiancée Clara, clearly show materialistic principles, leaving Nathaniel alone with his more philosophically-inclined thoughts until he is able to project a similar mindset on the automaton, Olympia.

Essentialism states that men are more attracted to abstract thinking while women, whose unimaginative minds cannot comprehend the abstract, are drawn to the materialistic. For the purposes of this argument, “material thought” will be defined as Nathaniel’s idea of the prosaic: unimaginative, factual, and lacking deeper emotions. This definition arises when Clara writes to her fiancé and all but diagnoses him of derangement, and is promptly discounted and ignored. The letter is described as “sensible,” but it does not satisfy Nathaniel’s preference for the mysterious. Meanwhile, abstract can be described as Nathaniel’s idea of the poetic: mystical, deeper thinking. This concept...

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