Olympia and the Automaton

Nathaniel immediately fell for this girl. He saw her through a window and her beauty drove all other thoughts from his mind. He needed to posses her. He even forgot about his fiancé, Clara. This obsession with the body perfect of the automaton reflects on how men viewed women in the early 1800’s. Olympia has nothing bouncing around in her hollow head, but she has beauty and figure. Nathaniel doesn’t even realize that she is a wood doll, showing how little he cares about what lives behind her eyes. The damn fool doesn’t realize that she is a wooden doll. He pines over her and lets himself be fully absorbed by her. All she ever says is “ah, ah.” This doesn’t tip Nathaniel off at all. He is crazy, but he’s also an idiot.

The really weird part is how Spalanzani is so into the relationship between Nathaniel and Olympia. I guess he is looking for some sick validsation of his creation through lust. Most other people think Olympia is peculiar, but Nathaniel, the beautiful boy that he is, can see through all of it and realize what a catch the wooden doll is. He even prepares to propose to her.

That is when shit really goes down. Spalanzani and Coppola are fighting over Olympia’s body and Nathaniel sees her eyes lying on the floor and loses it. He goes into a frenzy. Meanwhile, Coppola, who we have learned is none other than the vile Coppelius, has taken off with the eye-less wooden doll. This holds a bit of irony. The Sandman takes the non-living creature without eyes. What will he feed his children?

The idea of the automaton is fascinating for the time, a girl made from the gears of a clock. There is a basis for the appearance of Olympia. In Ian Roberts’ article entitled “Olympia’s Daughters,” he cites a Hoffmann biographer on the subject of automaton, “Hewett-Thayer points out, he [Hoffmann] recorded in his diary in 1802 that he ‘determined sometime to try his hand at the construction of an automaton. That Hoffmann examined automatons whenever opportunity offered is probable[1]” (Hewett-Thayer via Roberts, Pg. 115). It seems more than fair for an author to be obsessed with creation and control.

Hoffmann does truly get to create his own automaton in the form of all his characters. He is also afforded the pleasure of utterly destroying them. As a writer myself, I have experienced the joy of creating unlikeable characters and watching them fall apart with a smile.

[1]  Roberts, Ian F. “Olympia’s Daughters: E.T.A. Hoffmann and Philip K. Dick.” Science Fiction Studies 37.1 (March 2010): 150-53. Print.



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