Freud's Concept Of The Uncanny Essay

1042 words - 4 pages

When a person experiences chills or goose bumps as a
reaction to something strange or unusual, they are being
affected by a sense of uncanniness. The psychoanalyst
Sigmund Freud endeavored to explain this feeling of
uncanniness in his essay entitled “The Uncanny”. Freud’s
theory focuses around two different causes for this
reaction. Freud attributes the feeling of uncanniness to
repressed infantile complexes that have been revived by some
impression, or when primitive beliefs that have been
surmounted seem once more to be confirmed.

The first point of his theory that Freud discusses in
the essay is the repression of infantile complexes that
cause an uncanny experience. Freud uses E.T.A. Hoffman’s
short story, “The Sandman”, to explain the idea of
repression of infantile complexes. The story centers around
the character of the Sandman, who steals the eyes of
children. Freud states that the fear that the character
Nathaniel feels towards the Sandman has more to due with an
infantile castration complex than with the actual fear of
losing his eyes. In Freud’s theory he states that the “Study
of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that a morbid
anxiety connected with the eyes and with going blind is
often enough a substitute for the dread of castration”(Freud
383). If Freud’s belief is true, than it is Nathaniel’s
fear of castration that causes him in the end to go mad and
throw himself from parapet. Nathaniel’s fear is embodied in
the character of the Sandman, whom Freud says represents
Nathaniel’s father, and thus is the cause of his fear of
castration. The Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex would also be
affected by Freud’s theory. When examining Oedipus’ action
of blinding himself once he hears the truth about his
parentage, it would have to be determined that he blinds
himself as a symbolic castration. This statement is
supported by the laws of ancient Greek society which would
have called for his castration due to the incest with his

While the infantile castration complex is the only one
Freud goes into detail with in the essay, there are many
others that would cause uncanniness if they were revived.
The reason for this is that once the child grows up these
complexes are hidden deep within the subconscious and are
totally without logical reason. The adult does not realize
that he fears castration, instead he can only rationally
explain his fear as that of being blinded. The feelings of
childhood remain with us throughout adult life but they are
only faintly perceptible, and this too can cause
uncanniness. The foggy remembrance of a sensation that can
no longer be grasped but still affects our emotions in ways
that we can not explain to ourselves.

The second point of Freud’s theory states that
uncanniness is experienced when primitive beliefs which have
been surmounted seem once more to be confirmed. These

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