Nathanael stops writing his letter to Clara when Coppola comes in to sell him glasses. After buying the spyglass, Nathanael almost begins writing to her again, but instead picks up the spyglass and continues staring amorously at Olimpia. This moment, together with the physical objects of letter and spyglass, symbolizes a shift from one woman to the other. It is a shift from logic to vanity and warped perception.
Eyes are the most important symbol in the story, and are referenced many times throughout the text. Eyes are historically important as symbols, and were prominent in religions from Christianity (symbolizing faith) to ancient Egyptian beliefs (symbolizing protection and life). Eyes are said to be the gateway to the soul, which is important given Nathanael's lack of recognition of Olimpia's status as non-living, though he at first does note that Olimpia's eyes seem lifeless and fixed. Eyes are important to the portrayal of emotion, both in life and especially in writing (green eyes of jealous, the red eyes of evil or demons), and both are important as Hoffmann's narrator and Nathanael are writers themselves. Finally, eyes are a sensory organ prone to disturbance, through faulty communication with the mind or external factors - this means that the use of the eyes and vision can demonstrate the difficulty one has distinguishing faulty perception from reality.
Coppola's Glasses (Symbol)
The many eyes that Nathanael sees in Coppola's glasses constitute a major moment in which the reader must decide whether the way the narrator is writing establishes reality or is documenting hallucinations or warped reality through the eyes of Nathanael. The many eyes seen in Coppola's glasses symbolize both Nathanael's feelings of being watched and harassed, both by Coppelius mentally and by Clara and Lothar regarding his views on Coppelius, and foreshadows the warped reality he will soon view through the spyglass, leading to his misperception of Olimpia as a human.
Olimpia herself can be viewed as a symbol of ideal womanhood as constructed (literally and figuratively) by men of the time. Her womanhood stems from two basic facets: her construction to look like a woman (with carefully measured bust) and sound like a woman (able to perform a grand aria in public, but in private only able to respond with the word "Oh"). This symbolizes how women were supposed to behave in 19th century Europe, and to some extent the satire of this symbol applies to the modern perception and construction of female ideals.
Nathanael's Spyglass (Symbol)
Like eyes, the spyglass symbolizes the ability to see clearly. However, through use of the spyglass, Nathanael first convinces himself that Olimpia is living. Furthering this irony, Nathanael is launched into his final, fatal fit of insanity when he views Clara through the spyglass and seems to believe her not to be living, raving the same things that he did when he discovered Olimpia to be an automaton. This symbol therefore physicalizes the notion of warped perception and the damage that the realization of this warped perception can do to one's psyche.
The Sandman Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Sandman is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.