Friday, October 5

The most memorable satanic character we have encountered among the three authors listed is the title character in E.T.A. Hoffman's The Sandman. Known either as Coppelius or Guiseppe Coppola, the sandman is a diabolical, wicked fiend who is able to possess Nathaniel's mind through the use of magic. Comparatively, Alessandro Manzoni's Unnamed and HonorĂ© de Balzac's Vautrin are much more human characters who possess sharp intellects and keen powers of observation, yet no magic. These men both came into their evil ways by motives and intentions that are borne out of human desires, while the sandman wants only one thing—control over Nathaniel. The sandman is an elusive fellow and disappears whenever it is most prudent for him to do so. Vautrin may be able to cheat death sometimes, but is very dramatically arrested, while the Unnamed is moved from within to renounce his evil ways and come to God, thereby becoming a famous saint.
Call him Coppelius, call him Guiseppe Coppola, call him the sandman, whatever his name is, there is no doubt that this man possesses magical qualities that neither Vautrin nor the Unnamed possess. The very first time the reader encounters Coppelius in the flesh, he “unscrew[s] [Nathaniel’s] hands and feet, and fixe[s] them on again,” in differing configurations, (p. 92). This act—which foreshadows Coppelius’s eventual control over Nathaniels limbs and mind—is an act outside the realm of physical reality, and neither Vautrin nor the Unnamed command this type of power. These men undoubtedly have uncanny insight into the minds and motives of others, but it is a natural talent each man has developed because his success—and life—depended upon it.
One of Vautrin’s defining characteristics is his seemingly inexplicable ability to know things the other characters do not. On page 69 of Old Goriot he astounds Rastignac because he knows the name and errand of the beautiful woman EugĂ©ne met in the street, “she was probably going to visit old Gobseck, a money-lender...her name is Anastasie de Restaud.” This type of knowledge becomes less mysterious when Vautrin is revealed to be a criminal mastermind who acts as “agent,” “banker,” and “legal adviser” to “every convict in three prisons,” plus many criminals too smart to get caught (p. 186-7). One can infer that Vautrin knows Gobseck and found the information out through him. Upon Vautrin’s arrest, the author alludes to the brilliance of criminals, “a barbarous…yet calmly logical and clear-headed race.” The terms “logical” and “clear-headed” deflate any notion that criminals like Vautrin possess supernatural abilities and reminds this reader more of the scientist de Balzac mentions in the novel’s dedication.
Alessandro Manzoni’s larger-than-life figure of evil, the Unnamed, has a similar heightened ability to observe and judge others as Vautrin, but again, there does not seem to be anything supernatural in it. “The Unnamed came forward…watching Don Rodrigo’s face and also keeping an eye on his hands. This was an old habit of his, almost an involuntary reaction,” (p. 368). These habits would have to be cultivated by an old soldier such as the Unnamed in order to become an old soldier, rather than a dead soldier. (need to cite where he’s shown to be a soldier). Later on, the Unnamed exhibits signs that his lot may be closer to Nathaniel’s than Coppelius’s. Nathaniel refers to himself on page 102 of The Sandman as, “the tortured plaything of mysterious powers…effectuated by some higher force from outside.” On page 369 of The Betrothed, The Unnamed volunteers to kidnap Lucia for Don Rodrigo, “as if some devil in his heart had given him an order.” The Unnamed is bewildered by this force and chides himself for giving in to it. If he had mastery over the supernatural, it seems that he would have control over this force, rather than it having control over him.

In fact, the very awareness they each have of their own mortality marks them as humans rather than magicians. (talk about intents & motives—good and bad)

The reader doesn’t get very much insight into the inner workings of Coppelius’s mind or a map of his motives. The most we know about his motives is that he wants eyes, and especially, it seems, Nathaniel’s eyes: “Now we have eyes—eyes—a lovely pair of children’s eyes!” he rhapsodizes on page 91. On page 109, Coppola says almost the same words to Nathaniel, “I also got lov-ely occe, lov-ely occe!” using the Italian word for “eyes” to describe glasses. Spalzani tells Nathaniel that the automaton Olympia’s eyes are, “the eyes, the eyes purloined from you!” (p. 120). The very fact that the word “eyes” is repeated at least twice every time eyes are mentioned shows what great significance they have for Coppelius and Coppola. This lust for eyes reflects Nathaniel’s childhood fear of the sandman who steals naughty children’s eyes and feeds them to his own children (p. 87).

Why does Coppelius want Nathaniel’s eyes so badly? Is it because the eyes are the windows to the soul, and Coppelius—fiend that he is—wants control over Nathaniel’s soul? Nathaniel claims that Coppelius is “an evil force which [took] possession of him” as a child and still holds sway over him as an adult (p. 103). Use of Coppola’s telescope brings him deeper under the man’s control; as he becomes more and more obsessed with looking at Olympia, she becomes more lifelike. Her eyes, which were cold and dead before, become convincingly realistic, and everyone is fooled into believing she’s a living human. Coppola’s enchanted telescope is drawing out Nathaniel’s soul and instilling it in Olympia. Once Olympia is destroyed—once her eyes, the eyes from Nathaniel, are removed, Nathaniel can’t get that part of his soul back. Afterwards, Nathaniel is more obviously under Coppelius’s control. The possession that previously affected only Nathaniel’s thoughts and moods now affects his words and movements. “Spin, puppet, spin!” he cries as when he tries to kill both Spalzani and Clara (120 and 124). Nathaniel is now Coppelius’s “lovely puppet.” I wonder if these are words that Coppelius wants him to say, or Nathaniel’s self is so destroyed that he is parroting the commands Coppelius is saying inside his head.

The author of The Sandman pits characters against each other in debate over the questionable reality of the man himself. The reader is asked to consider whether the sandman actually exists as Nathaniel sees him: is he an ugly, mean-spirited creature who maliciously torments Nathaniel and appears to him as both Coppelius and Coppola? Nathaniel's betrothed, Clara, offers a different theory on p. 95 and 103: Coppelius was undoubtedly a “repulsive” figure who frightened Nathaniel as a child, but it is Nathaniel who projects demonic characteristics and powers onto both Coppelius and Coppola. It is Nathaniel's own mind that won’t allow him to let go of this “spectral monster,” rather than “an evil force which ha[s] taken possession of him.” How does the famous quote go? “The Devil’s greatest trick was in fooling mankind that he didn’t exist.” Here lies the reason for the sandman’s great memorablity as a satanic character; months later, the reader is still pondering the same questions as those around Nathaniel—does the sandman really exist?


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