Pulled to Pieces

Women and (Un)Emotional Labor in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman”

Aurora B. Romero


Previous analyses of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s novella “The Sandman” (1817) have typically focused on the diagnosis of the male protagonist, Nathanael. His behavior has been alternatively interpreted as evidence of a narcissistic complex, a failure of certain semiotic systems, or in the tradition of Sigmund Freud, as a fear of castration. Whenever attention is focused on the supporting characters, it commonly emphasizes their role in Nathanael’s downfall. The intent of this article is to instead analyze Clara’s behavior toward Nathanael according to gender-specific norms that remain in currency to the present day as supported by contemporary psychological studies. The picturesque nature of Hoffmann’s text allows for the analysis of Clara’s character according to the visually oriented studies that suggest women are more frequently perceived as objects rather than as persons and that this assessment compromises women’s status as rational beings. These studies demonstrate that women are expected to perform altruistic behaviors, i.e. emotional labor, as part of gender-specific in-role behavior or face negative judgement. My article shows how Hoffmann’s story “objectifies” its characters through a performance of textual dismemberment that indicates how the treatment of femininity as a spectacle is related to the ongoing reduction of female subjectivity today. (ABR)

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