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Shattered Perception: The Narrator Of “The Sandman” As A Schizophrenic

1832 words - 7 pages

According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine Website , schizophrenia is “a mental illness that usually strikes in late adolescence or early adulthood, but can strike at any time in life” that is characterized by “delusions, hallucinations, bizarre behavior, [and] disorganized speech” among other symptoms. Schizophrenia is, at its core, the altering of a person’s perception of reality by some somatic means and when observed by a psychologically sound individual, can be quite unsettling. After all, seeing a person whose reality is fractured causes us to doubt our own reality, if only in a fleeting thought.
In Hoffmann’s “The Sandman” , there is a re-occurring theme of the uncanny that is commented on by both Sigmund Freud and Ernst Jentsch, who try to explain the uncanny in different ways by highlighting events and imagery that they believe to play a key role in creating it. I however, would argue that the uncanny is a more universal theme in the story and likewise, it’s source will be much more general. In the course of this paper, I intend to prove that the source of the uncanny is the fact that the reader doubts the reality they are presented within the text in the same way that one would doubt the reality that is perceived by a schizophrenic. This is due to the fact that the narrator suffers from schizophrenia and a possible dissociative personality disorder. Furthermore, the events of the short story only occur within the twisted mind of the narrator and represent a series of psychical manifestations that were most likely imagined as a defense mechanism to deal with the traumatic loss of his father and siblings.
I understand that now, you may be taken aback by the outrageous claim that I have made and indeed, there seems to be infinite web of events that must be untangled in order to see the validity of my claim. So, in an effort to approach this daunting task as systematically as possible, I would like you to assume that everything within the story does not exist in our reality, but instead only exists within the narrator’s manifested reality, and I will work through the chain of events of the short story and show how this immense web of psychic disorder was woven.
The story of the Sand-man truly begins before any of the events of the story, when the narrator was still a young boy. Through an unspecified traumatic series of events, the young narrator loses his father and siblings, leaving him the only child of a widow mother. The emotional stress of the event causes the first major mental break of the narrator’s life as well as agitates his already budding schizophrenic symptoms. The main changes to reality that occur as a result of this break are the fact that the narrator assumes the identity of Nathaniel and imagines his father and siblings as alive when in fact, they are not. At this point, the only person that truly exists at all is the narrator’s mother.
The fact that the narrator’s father and siblings do not exist can be seen in the...

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