The Sandman (Hoffmann)

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The Sandman is a story in the tradition of the art fairy tale of the Black Romanticism (often also referred to as a horror novel ) by ETA Hoffmann , which was first published in 1816. It appeared in Berlin, Realschulbuchhandlung , without a specific author , as the first story in the cycle of night pieces . Edited by the writer of the Fantasy Pieces in Callot's manner. It also includes: The Jesuit Church in G., Ignaz Denner, Das Sanctus . In 1817 a second part of the night plays followed with the stories The desolate House, The Majorat, The Vow and The Stone Heart. The Sandman offers many interpretive approaches and is one of the author's most important works, so the epilogue of the Reclam edition is quoted here : “[...] that the number of interpretations in recent years has reached such an extent that the interpretation of the Sandmanns seems like a specialized literary discipline in which representatives of all methodological directions participate. "

The Sandmann - production 2017 in the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus (from left to right): Spalanzani, Clara, Coppola / Coppelius, mother, Nathanael, Sandmann, Lothar, Siegmund, Olimpia, father


  • Nathanael (the gift of God or the gift of God): narcissistic predisposed protagonist , whose name alludes to life (birth = Natal) and death (Thanatos = Greek god of death).
  • Clara (the clear one): Nathanael's fiancée with a calm, level-headed, but nevertheless cheerful disposition .
  • Coppelius: scary, big and ungainly guy that Nathanael and his siblings in childhood, the joy of life spoils. He turns up at Nathanael's home in the evening and conducts alchemical experiments with his father . The name, which comes from Latin , can be translated as "cup" or "eye socket" or "melting pot", which combines some allusions to the content of the story.
  • Coppola: Italian dealer in which Nathanael recognizes Coppelius. He sells Nathanael a perspective . His name is the Italian form of the name "Coppelius" and is to be translated as well.
  • Olimpia ("who comes from Olympus"; a mockery of the classical music ): "daughter" of Nathanael's professor, who later turns out to be an automaton (wooden doll) and is a reason for Nathanael's madness .
  • Siegmund (protection): tries as a friend to save Nathanael from misfortune.
  • Lothar: Clara's brother and friend of Nathanael.
  • Spalanzani (another spelling for Spallanzani , an Italian naturalist who, among other things, dealt with artificial insemination): Nathanael's professor who pretends to be Olimpia as his daughter.
  • Nathanael's father: performs alchemical experiments with Coppelius in Nathanael's childhood and dies in the process.
  • Nathaniel's mother: uses the Sandman tale to make Nathaniel sleep; she herself hates fairy tales.
  • Nurse / Nanny: tells the story of the Sandman , which is the origin of Nathanael's fear of the Sandman.


Drawing by ETA Hoffmann for his book "The Sandman"

The student Nathaniel told his friend Lothar in a letter that he had in the form of barometer Trader Coppola again met the lawyer Coppelius. During Nathanael's childhood, he carried out alchemical experiments with his father , which ultimately led to his father's death. Coppelius is connected to a childhood trauma of Nathaniel, which is why he sees in him the figure of the Sandman, a monster that tears out children's eyes.

In his confusion, however, Nathanael addressed the letter not to Lothar, but to his fiancée Clara, who advised him in a reply to curb his imagination, since the Sandman was only a product of his subconscious and Coppola's resemblance to Coppelius was purely coincidental.

In another letter to Lothar, Nathanael asks him not to talk to Clara about his problems anymore. He also tells him that he was wrong about Coppola's identity and that it was probably not Coppelius, since an Italian professor with a pronounced accent had assured him that he had known Coppola for years and that Coppelius had been German. He also tells him about this same Spalanzani, an Italian physicist and lecturer at the university where he is studying, and about his often imprisoned "daughter" Olimpia, who seems strange but not unsympathetic to him, but initially has no further meaning for him . At the end of the letter, the reader learns that Nathanael is going to visit Lothar and Clara in order to gain distance from the unpleasant encounter with Coppola.

Following the three introductory letters, the narrator speaks directly to the reader: He tells him that Lothar is a friend of his and that he thus learned of Nathanael's fate. He gives different ways how he could have started the story, but then comes to the conclusion that the letters are best suited to bring the reader closer to the tragedy of Nathaniel. He also reports on Nathanael's life situation and describes Clara, to whom he takes a very positive position.

Nathanael is now changing very much: He sinks into dark dreams and believes that life is determined by a higher power, which Clara is very repugnant, especially when Nathanael Coppelius sees the evil principle that disturbs the love happiness of the two. Nathanael sinks more and more into his world of thought and begins to fantasize about Coppelius and Clara's eyes. Over time, Clara becomes bored with the never-ending flow of narrative and poetry that Nathanael recalls and becomes increasingly dismissive. Nathanael feels misunderstood by this, so that he describes Clara as a "lifeless automaton" in a burst of anger. Lothar, who meets Clara and is enraged by Nathanael's disrespectful behavior towards her, challenges Nathanael to a duel, which Clara can just prevent. Then Nathanael throws himself dramatically in front of Clara and assures her of his boundless love, in stark contrast to Clara's disappointment over the non-existent love of Nathanael. He now asks Lothar for forgiveness from the bottom of his heart.

When Nathanael returned to his apartment soon afterwards, he found it burned down. A fire had broken out in the pharmacy below and had spread further. However, his belongings were saved in a new house, which is now directly across from Spalanzani's house. He notices that Olimpia sits in her room the whole time without doing anything else (which he has a good view of) and seems to be looking over at him. He thinks she is pretty and is filled with great curiosity. Completely surprisingly, Coppola visits him, from whom he buys one of his perspectives out of embarrassment because of the previous expulsion . In order to finally have a closer look at Olimpia, he points it at her. Only now does he recognize her true "heavenly beauty" and is as if "conjured up" to the window. When Coppola disappears again, laughing loudly, on the stairs, Nathanael gets a strange feeling; it seems to him as if a “deep death sigh” were going through the room, but he, referring to Clara, blames it on the perspective that he has just bought, which is probably far too expensive.

On the following days he can no longer leave Olimpia and watches her all the time through his perspective. His "heart-loving" Clara and Lothar have slipped away from him and he doesn't give them a single thought anymore.

When he learns that Spalanzani is planning to hold a party at which he will introduce his daughter to the public for the first time, Nathanael is delighted. At this ball, Nathanael is the only one who dares to invite her to dance, which pulls him even more under her spell. To everyone else, Olimpia appears very “mechanical”, lifeless and almost too perfect. On the other hand, he loses his last doubts about his love for her, and they kiss. He begins to meet with Olimpia more often in order to read her his poems and stories. Unlike the critical Clara, she only answers “Oh! Oh! ”, Which Nathanael interprets as an expression of a very poetic and profound mind; he sees her as the person who fully understands him. When Nathanael made allusions to Spalanzani that he wanted to marry her, he made it clear that he would leave her completely free choice. He then decides to propose to Olimpia, but bursts into a fight between Coppola and Spalanzani over Olimpia, which he only now recognizes for what she is: an automated wooden dummy. After a violent altercation, Coppola escapes with Olimpia's body, and Spalanzani asks Nathanael to follow him in order to regain the machine. But Nathanael, who sees Olimpia's "bloody eyes" (her glass eyes in Spalanzani's blood) lying on the floor, jumps at his neck to kill him, which is prevented by the crowd that has meanwhile arrived. Nathanael goes mad and is taken to the madhouse , where he spends an unspecified time.

The fictional narrator speaks to the reader again and reports that Spalanzani has to leave the university because he has "betrayed humanity with the mechanical doll". Coppola remains (again) gone.

Nathanael seems to be free from madness and plans to marry Clara and move to the country with her. With a final shopping trip in the city, Nathanael and Clara climb the council tower to enjoy the view again. Once at the top, Clara draws Nathanael 's attention to an approaching gray bush, whereupon it reaches into its side pocket and takes in the perspective of Coppola. When he sees Clara through it, he seems to be insane again and tries to throw her down the tower. Lothar can barely save her when Nathanael sees Coppelius, who is standing in a crowd at the foot of the tower. Coppelius keeps people from stopping Nathanael with the words "Ha ha - just wait, he'll come down by himself". With the words “Ha! Sköne Oke - Sköne Oke ”, with which the weather glass dealer Coppola had offered his perspective, Nathanael throws himself to her death. Coppelius disappears into the crowd.

After several years, Clara is said to have found quiet domestic happiness with a husband and two children, at least "one wants to see Clara in a remote area". The last sentence reads as follows: "It would be inferred from this that Clara still found the quiet domestic happiness that appealed to her cheerful, fun-loving spirit and that Nathanael, who was torn inside, could never have granted her." Clara's fate remains uncertain, however, and the view could also be just an illusion.


ETA Hoffmann deals with various topics in "The Sandman":

  • The eye motif: The eyes play a decisive role in both the Sandman in the old wives' fairy tale and Olimpia. As the proverbial goes, they reflect the soul of a person. Since the sandman puts sand in the eyes, he spoils the souls of children in the broadest sense. Furthermore, in Hoffmann's work it becomes clear again and again that Nathanael swaps man and machine, especially when he looks into the eyes of his counterpart. Whenever the eyes seem to shine, it appears to Nathanael as human.
  • The relationship between man and machine: Through the perspective, a scientific instrument, the madness of Nathanael is repeatedly and unintentionally aroused. The guests at Spalanzani's ball also don't seem to recognize the difference between man and machine at first glance. Furthermore, the scientist at the time is criticized in the form of Spalanzani, who does not seem to know the limits of science and who deliberately betrays his fellow men.
  • Criticism of the Enlightenment Society
  • Motif of the woman: “The Sandman” is peppered with minor ironic remarks on the part of the narrator, which criticize the image of women at the time. In one section, for example, it is described how the various male representatives of certain professional groups (foggers and fumigators, artists, etc.) assess Clara. From this it can be seen that they do not perceive Clara as a whole personality, but only interpret some properties for themselves. In a further section of the work the reaction of society to Spalanzani's deception is described: Here the men want their wives to sing crookedly, not to dance to the beat and to have more profound conversation. This is justified by the fact that otherwise one would not be able to distinguish women from robots like Olimpia. This shows how little was given to women.
  • The fire motif: In “The Sandman”, fire is always at the beginning of a change. Through alchemical experiments, Nathanael's father dies in an explosion. Nathanael is sick for weeks. The fire in his student room also means that he moves into the house across from Spalanzani and meets Olimpia. Fire and heat have been linked to Nathaniel's growing madness. At the beginning he still feels a “glowing love affair” for Clara, later he describes Olimpia's eyes as “lively flaming”. The climax of the madness is reached when Nathanael on the tower shouts "circle of fire - circle of fire" several times and then jumps to his death.


In music

  • The story Der Sandmann found its way into the second act of the opera Hoffmann's Tales by Jacques Offenbach .
  • The opera in nine scenes The Sandman by Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini is also based on motifs from this story. - World premiere at Theater Basel , October 20, 2012, based on the libretto by Thomas Jonigk , directed by Christof Loy
  • The Ballet Coppélia by Léo Delibes was created based on this story .
  • Another ballet, choreographed and staged by Christian Spuck , is also based on the story. It was performed on April 7, 2006 in Stuttgart with the Stuttgart Ballet. Music: Robert Schumann , Martin Donner.
  • The Copenhagen band “The Sandmen” was named after ETA Hoffmann's “Sandman” and can be heard on the soundtrack to the film Nightwatch .
  • The Berlin band Coppelius named itself after a character from the story, and the members of the band also use the names of characters from the story and some of their songs refer to the Sandman.
  • The concept album The Final Fall by the band DuskMachine , released in 2005, deals in its songs with The Sandman and The Mines of Falun , which also comes from ETA Hoffmann.
  • The 2007 concept album The Voice of Midnight by the American avant-garde band The Residents deals thematically and musically with the narrative, the name Nathanael being Americanized into "Nate", and Clara becoming "Claire".
  • On the 2013 album The Black 1 × 1 by the medieval band Saltatio Mortis , the piece The Sandman is about the fairy tale described by Hoffmann
  • The German rap artist Pyrin uses excerpts from ETA Hoffmann's “Sandmann” in the song “Ein und Alles” (album: The Red Carpet in Nothing) and bases the entire text on the story
  • My heart burns by the German band Rammstein (2001)

In the movie

In the theatre

  • Robert Wilson converted the literature into the music theater The Sandman . - Premiere on May 3, 2017 at the Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen / Düsseldorf premiere on May 20, 2017
  • Tobias Wolfgang condensed the literature into a chamber musical. The music comes from the Berlin composer Bijan Azadian . The world premiere took place on December 1, 2018 in the Theaterwerkstatt Würzburg.


  • Peter Bekes: Key to reading. ETA Hoffmann: The Sandman . Reclam, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 978-3-15-015354-3 .
  • Sigmund Freud : The Unheimliche (1919). In: Sigmund Freud: Collected works . Volume 12: Works from the years 1917–1920 . Edited by Anna Freud . Fischer Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-596-50300-0 , pp. 227-278.
  • Ulrich Hohoff: ETA Hoffmann, Der Sandmann: text criticism, edition, commentary . De Gruyter, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-11-011065-2 .
  • Ernst Jentsch: On the psychology of the uncanny . In: Psychiatric-neurological weekly . 22, 1906, ZDB -ID 200460-4 , pp. 203-205.
  • Friedrich Kittler : "The phantom of our ego" and literary psychology. ETA Hoffmann - Freud - Lacan . In: Friedrich A. Kittler, Horst Turk (Ed.): Urszenen. Literary studies as discourse analysis and discourse criticism. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1977, ISBN 3-518-07475-X , pp. 139-166.
  • Detlef Kremer: ETA Hoffmann. Stories and novels . Schmidt, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-503-04939-8 , pp. 64-86 ( classic readings 1).
  • Barbara Neymeyr : Narcissistic Destruction. On the importance of loss of reality and self-alienation in ETA Hoffmann's night play "The Sandman". In: Poetica 29 (1997), pp. 499-531.
  • Barbara Neymeyr: ETA Hoffmann: "The Sandman" (= Schroedel Interpretations , Vol. 27). Schroedel, Braunschweig 2014, ISBN 978-3-507-47725-4 .
  • Ursula Orlowski: Literary subversion at ETA Hoffmann: Nouvelles from the "Sandman". Winter, Heidelberg 1988, ISBN 3-533-03980-3 .
  • Günter Saße: The sandman. Communicative isolation and narcissistic self-deprecation . In: Günter Saße (Ed.): ETA Hoffmann. Novels and short stories . Reclam, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-15-017526-7 , pp. 96-116 ( Reclam's Universal Library 17526, interpretations ).
  • Dieter Schrey: "Beautiful Oke". The overpowering of the imagination by the “immense reality” - ETA Hoffmann's »The Sandman«. 2006,
  • Timotheus Schwake: ETA Hoffmann, The Sandman . Edited by Johannes Diekhans. Schöningh, Paderborn 2006, ISBN 3-14-022357-9 ( Simple German - teaching model ).
  • Peter Tepe, Jürgen Rauter, Tanja Semlow: Conflicts of interpretation using the example of ETA Hoffmann's “The Sandman”. Cognitive hermeneutics in practical application. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-8260-4094-8 ( study book literary studies 1).

Web links

Wikisource: The Sandman  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Max Kämper (Ed.): ETA Hoffmann - The Sandman (Reclam XL) . Reclam, ISBN 978-3-15-019237-5 .
  2. About Scartazzini's opera in the Basel Theater ( Memento of the original from January 1, 2013 in the web archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. Homepage Theater Basel ( Memento of the original from January 1, 2013 in the web archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , accessed October 21, 2012 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. ^ Information from the annual program of the State Theater Stuttgart , season 2005/06.
  5. The Sandman in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  6. Der Sandmann (1992/93) ( Memento of the original from August 28, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  7. ETA Hoffmann's The Sandman (2011)
  8. The Sandman. An animated short film. (2012)
  9. D'haus - Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, young theater, community stage: The Sandman, by ETA Hoffmann. Retrieved December 17, 2017 .
  10. ^ TheaterWerkstatt Würzburg eV - The Sandman. Retrieved September 14, 2018 .