Sigmund Freud analyzed different works to find the familiar and unfamiliar things in literature that caused different types of reactions. The uncanny is a way that something makes you feel. As a group we thought of dolls, and how without social media and TV/Movies that dolls would be less uncanny. Children love dolls and never think about them being creepy. However, when they grow up and start watching movies and television shows that involve ghosts or evil spirits inhabiting those dolls, they do. The doll was once a familiar thing, but became a strangely familiar, yet unfamiliar thing that gives us an uneasy feeling.
Freud focuses on “The Sand-Man,” a story about a boy who has a continued belief in the Sand-Man who takes the eyes of children from them when they are refusing to sleep. The boy found a connection between the Sand-Man taking his eyes and his father being killed in the explosion of the coals dusted into the children’s eyes, through the Sand-Man continuing to haunt him throughout his life. The uncanny aspect of this connection is that the boy made a supposition about reality based on a story from his childhood. There is no Sand-Man. He knows that. His father was not killed by the Sand-Man’s explosion, but he still believes that there is a connection between the two of them.
Freud also touches upon the link between the Sand-Man taking children’s eyes and being castrated. Again there is no direct connection between the two, but growing up thinking about the Sand-Man has given this patient a sense of anxiety. “We shall venture, therefore, to refer the uncanny effect of the Sand-Man to the anxiety belonging to the castration complex of childhood. But having reached the idea that we can make an infantile factor such as this responsible for feelings of uncanniness, we are encouraged to see whether we can apply it to other instances of the uncanny” (Rivkin & Ryan, 424). There is no direct link between losing an eye to the Sand-Man and being castrated except for a shared anxiety of losing a precious organ.
There was also a connection between this anxiety, the unknown, and pure coincidence. The example used in “The Uncanny” was saying you wished someone would drop dead theoretically and, not long after, that person falling dead. This is a coincidence, unless the person wishing death upon someone killed them, though this is not the case in the example. It was also noted that people would link coincidence with certain numbers. Freud made use of the number 62. If the number were to show up on the door of your cabin on board a ship, or on the ticket received from a coat check, one would think nothing of it. Yet, if 62 were to crop up in both these instances, or additional instances thereafter, that would be uncanny. Coincidence is linked closely with anxiety and the unknown. It is the unknown things that happen – often repeatedly – out of coincidence that causes anxiety.
There is no one clear definition to describe the uncanny. It is a feeling that you have when something familiar becomes unfamiliar, or you feel you know something, yet it has become strange to you. It occurs when you are usually comfortable with someone, something or in some place and then for some reason you become extremely uncomfortable. The uncanny gives people a sense of anxiety because they are in a situation that has changed and they are unsure of how or why those things changed. The uncanny connects many parts of our lives. As children we make connections with fairy tales/Grimm stories, and we then turn those memories into uncanny feelings about situations in our lives as we grow. Or we see the same number crop up repeatedly throughout our lives, and we lay an anxiety or fear within that number due to our lack of an easily understood meaning for the reoccurance.
“The Uncanny .” Literary Theory An Anthology, by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2017.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Short Stories: The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe.” East of the Web, ShortStories, www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/PitPen.shtml.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Works of Edgar Allan Poe.” Gutenberg, 19 May 2008, www.gutenberg.org/files/2148/2148-h/2148-h.htm#link2H_4_0019.
Poe, Edgar Allan. William Wilson. 1839