The Sandman

The Sandman Quotes and Analysis

"The Sandman had aroused my interest in the marvelous and extraordinary, an interest that readily takes root in a child's mind. I liked nothing better than hearing or reading horrific stories about goblins, witches, dwarfs, and so forth; but pride of place always belonged to the Sandman, and I kept drawing him, in the strangest and most loathsome forms, with chalk or charcoal on tables, cupboards, and walls."

Nathanael, in his first letter to Lothar

This quote, describing the time before Nathanael's face-to-face encounter with the Sandman, transitions the reader from Nathanael's childhood to his adolescent fear. He refuses to believe what others, his mother and his sister's nurse, tell him of the Sandman; so, he comes up with his own depictions of the fearful creature. This demonstrates an authorial spark in him that we see manifest later in his Sandman-centric writing that Clara criticizes. This passage also shows the close relationship between what we consider normal childhood fascination with the magical and what we consider problematic obsession.

"They don't fit properly! It was all right as it was! The Old Man knew what he was doing!"

Coppelius, while dislocating young Nathanael's arms and legs

This quote demonstrate's Coppelius's vexation at God being able to create a living creature better than he can. Later, by looking at other's perceptions of Olimpia, it can be seen that Coppelius and Spalanzani are still unable to get the building of a humanoid machine perfectly right; she moves gracefully but too mechanically. This quote adds a sense of religious morality to the story, suggesting that the act of creating life (or pseudo-life) should be left to "The Old Man," rather than placed in the hands of imperfect humans -- a moral still relevant today.

"If there is a dark power which malevolently and treacherously places a thread within us, with which to hold us and draw us down a perilous and pernicious path that we would never otherwise have set foot on - if there is such a power, then it must take the same form as we do, it must become our very self; for only in this way can we believe in it and give it the scope it requires to accomplish its secret task. If our minds, strengthened by a cheerful life, are resolute enough to recognize alien and malevolent influences for what they are and to proceed tranquilly along the path to which our inclinations and our vocation have directed us, the uncanny power must surely perish in a vain struggle to assume the form which is our own reflection."

Clara to Nathanael, in the second letter

This quote is complex, which demonstrates Clara's ability to form and communicate complex thoughts -- something that Nathanael does not welcome because of her status as a woman. The quote itself navigates the delicate differences between manufactured obsession and the fear that is actually warranted by a situation. Clara and Lothar attempt to convince Nathanael in this way that his fear is childish and should be left behind, but there is dramatic irony in the fact that, in the context of the story at hand, Nathanael does have reason to fear Coppelius's dark presence in his life.

"You, anxious to convey your inner vision with all its glowing colours, its lights and shadows, laboured in vain to find words with which to begin. But you felt as though you must compress the entire wonderful, splendid, terrible, hilarious, and hideous experience into your very first word, so that it should strike your hearers like an electric shock; yet every word, all the resources of language, seemed faded, frosted, and dead. You searched and searched, and stammered and stuttered, and your friends' matter-of-fact questions were like gusts of icy air blowing on your inner glow and wellnigh extinguishing it. But if, like a bold painter, you had first sketched the outlines of your inner vision with a few careless strikes, you had little trouble in adding ever brighter colours until the swirling throng of multifarious figures seized hold of your friends' imagination, and they saw themselves, like you, in the midst of the picture that arose from your mind!"


Hoffmann here seems to speak directly through the narrator about the process of communicating, in writing or speaking, a story. This is a subject understandably close to his heart, and he takes a position vividly and with a clear moral - rather than putting undue emphasis on the beginning of a story and telling every part in the best way possible, it is better to begin a story and add detail. In this way, he says, one can achieve the end goal of storytelling, which is to have the reader or hearer truly "in the midst" of the picture you imagine.

"Clara could by no means be called beautiful; that was the judgement of all professional authorities on beauty. Yet the architects praised her perfectly proportioned figure, while the painters raved about the chaste lines of her neck, her shoulders, and her breasts, fell in love with her wonderful hair..."


This quote presupposes that there are "professional authorities on beauty" and that they judge beauty to be created by the sum of parts rather than parts taken individually. However, the narrator makes clear that artists are able to examine the beauty of these parts and will often find something beautiful for its beautiful parts. This beauty or perfection of parts is also what gives away Olimpia's nature to party guests and society members later on in the story, though Nathanael (perhaps because of being an artist or perhaps simply because he seeks this specific kind of woman romantically) is unable to process the problem causing this lack of true beauty.

"Dear friends, how can you expect me to treat your shifting, shadowy images as real objects full of life and motion?"


This quote comes from the narrator while describing Clara, but applies generally to the theme of perception versus reality in the story. Clara seems to ask lightly the question with which Nathanael is brutally confronted when Olimpia is revealed to be an automaton - how can one trust that their perceptions, even those of a loved one as real, reflect reality?

"He conceived the plan of writing a poem about his gloomy premonition that Coppelius would destroy his happy love. He portrayed himself and Clara as joined in true love, but every so often a black hand seemed to reach into their lives and tear out some newly discovered source of pleasure. Finally, when they are standing at the altar, the fearsome Coppelius appears and touches Clara's lovely eyes, which leap into Nathanael's breast, burning and singeing him..."


The narrator describes a poem that Nathanael writes and reads to Clara. The poem, rife with dark imagery, can be read like a mix between a dream and a wish: Nathanael is obviously plagued by these thoughts, and (like the narrator in his long section on authorship) feels a strong desire to find a way to communicate them. The events of the poem end up being fulfilled, perhaps in part because Nathanael wills it to be so. Coppelius, by helping to create Olimpia, destroys Nathanael's relationship with Clara and then Nathanael's sanity entirely.

"There was something stiff and measured about her gait and posture, which many people found displeasing; it was ascribed to the constraint imposed by such a large company."


Here, the narrator and Hoffmann begin their social commentary on the binding of society people by the rules of etiquette. This is how Olimpia is able to pass as human to many, though Hoffmann also foreshadows that some people are more aware and displeased than others at her mechanical stiffness.

"He had never had such a perfect listener. She did not sew or knit, she never looked out of the window, she did not feed a cage-bird, she did not play with a lap-dog or a favorite cat, she did not fiddle with scraps of paper or anything else, she never needed to conceal her yawns by a slight artificial cough: in a word, she stared fixedly at her lover for hours on end, without moving a muscle, and her gaze grew ever more ardent and more animated."


Here, the narrator describes Nathanael's relationship with Olimpia, which Nathanael seems to regard as profound. Nathanael had previously complained about Clara's habits while she listened to his tedious tales, and because Olimpia is an automaton able to listen to him without any distraction for hours on end, he perceives her to be the better woman for him. This quote shows that the story parodies Nathanael's view of women.

"It is reported that several years later, in a distant part of the country, Clara was seen sitting hand in hand with an affectionate husband outside the door of a handsome country dwelling, with two merry boys playing in front of her. This would seem to suggest that Clara succeeded in finding the quiet domestic happiness which suited her cheerful, sunny disposition, and which she could never have enjoyed with the tormented, self-divided Nathanael.


This quote is the final paragraph of the story, and is shocking for its abrupt change in narration (writing from hearsay), time (skipping forward several years), and focus (treating Clara, by focusing on her during the end of the story, as perhaps the most important secondary character). The narrator seems to scold Nathanael both for the attributes listed (tormented, self-divided) as well as for his views on women. Because parallels can be drawn between Nathanael, the narrator, and Hoffmann as fantasy-loving storytellers, it may be argued that Hoffmann scolding himself, attributing some failures with women to his Nathanael-like traits.