45 pages 1 hour read

Sigmund Freud

The Uncanny

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1919

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Part 3, “The Uncanny”Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Summary: Part 3, “The Uncanny”

In the final section of his essay, Freud sets out to allay the doubts that have accumulated in his readers’ minds. Freud returns to his discussion of the semantics of the term heimlich on which his definition of the uncanny rests: “It may be true that the uncanny is nothing else than a hidden, familiar thing that has undergone repression and then emerged from it, and that everything that is uncanny fulfils this condition” (152).

Freud now claims to address the limitations of this definition, which does “not solve the problem of the uncanny” (152), namely, that the resurgence of “archaic material” is not always uncanny. Freud draws the example of the severed hand in Hauff’s fairytale, which he says is uncanny, but contrasts it with Herodotus’s story of Rhampsenitus, in which a severed hand has no uncanny effect. Yet in “The Ring of Polycrates,” the immediate realization of the king’s wishes is uncanny. However, Freud reasons, fairytales are full of wish-fulfilments that do not produce uncanny effects. This is because “fairytales […] adopt the animistic standpoint of the omnipotence of thoughts and wishes” (153). Nor are Hans Andersen’s living household utensils or the animation of Pygmalion’s statue uncanny. Likewise, tales of the dead coming back to life in Snow White and the Bible are not uncanny.