The Sandman

Fear Embodied College

E.T.A. Hoffmann never reveals the true nature of his protagonist Nathanael’s childhood incident, and thus by design creates ambiguity within The Sandman. This ambiguity leads to two possible interpretations of the story, one of reality and one of fantasy. Neither of the interpretations dominates the story, and they are not meant to. However, Hoffman uses each of the two interpretations of The Sandman to critique the Romantics and proponents of the Enlightenment; that is, each interpretation serves to reflect the two major movements that dominated Hoffmann’s time.

Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (1776-1822), better known as Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, was a German Romantic author and a pioneer of the fantastic fiction genre. Drawing from "English Gothic romance, eighteenth-century Italian comedy, the psychology of the abnormal, and the occult, he created both a world in which everyday life is infused with the supernatural," and crafted characters that are placed in this palpably real, yet strangely unfamiliar world (“Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann”). Published in 1816, The Sandman embodies all these aforementioned characteristics; the story features the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality, the grotesque, the uncanny,...

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