The Uncanny, the Supernatural, and Decadence


The uncanny is the psychological experience of seeing something creepy and strangely familiar. The term can be discussed in relation to the supernatural, and achieving the uncanny effect is a common purpose in fiction writing. This essay will explore these notions based on Freud’s ideas and decadent literature. The uncanny can use the supernatural to produce ambiguity between the familiar and the unfamiliar, and decadence utilizes the supernatural to illustrate how madness and the decay of the soul develop.

Freud’s ideas and decadent literature on the uncanny

In creative contexts, the uncanny might relate to the supernatural as uncanniness is achieved by striking the right balance between depicting ordinary reality and anything perceived as extramundane. According to Freud, the uncanny effect is easily produced by making it seem questionable whether a certain character is a human being or human-like automation (5). The theme of the supernatural or just the hints that imply its presence can be exploited as a means of creating the uncanny effect. The experience of questioning whether something is what it seems to be, besides being unsettling, might be mistaken for an encounter with the supernatural. In the context of using the uncanny in creative writing, setting selection and character development practices that emphasize supernatural creatures in their “essential” environments fail to provide the required degree of creepiness. In contrast, as Freud highlights, “pretending to move in the world of common reality” while “flirting” with the supernatural offers the opportunity to create uncanniness to produce strong emotional effects (18). In other words, suggesting that the uncanny instrumentalizes the supernatural could be fair.

Superstitious fears and beliefs also exemplify the role of the supernatural in the uncanny, showing how the former fuels uncanniness. In his text, Freud cites “the dread of the evil eye” as the widespread real-life example of the uncanny (12). Humanity’s secret hope and the fear that thoughts, including ill-wishing out of jealousy, could be omnipotent and change reality through their disruptive energy are crucial in this regard (Freud 12). Superstitions can state or imply certain causative connections without offering an explanation of how the cause transforms into the effect, which represents the amalgamation of the familiar with the unclear.

The supernatural is used in decadence in various ways, including conveying the terror of going mad and the theme of becoming captivated by one’s own dream. Hoffmann, one of the proponents of salon decadence and gloomy aesthetics, actively incorporates mystical experiences into the plot of “The Sand-Man” (85). The “stiff, rigid Olympia,” who would often sit in one pose, turns out to be a robot-like doll rather than a human, making Nathaniel horrified (Hoffmann 109). Aside from this encounter, the supernatural permeates Nathaniel’s madness, including his dread of the Sand Man and the delusional feeling that Mr. Coppola embodies his largest fear of childhood (Freud 6). Tanizaki, a representative of Japanese decadence, resorts to supernaturalism in “The Tattooer” to express how the act of tattooing the first woman consumes Seikichi’s soul (7). In a supernatural way, Seikichi’s work acquires magical qualities in bright sunlight as the spider wreaths in flames (Tanizaki 7). The supernatural elements illustrate how the client has taken Seikichi’s strength by embodying his dream (Tanizaki 6). This might convey the idea that one should be scared of fulfilling their most treasured dreams.


In summary, Freud’s analysis of the uncanny illustrates that the effect of uncanniness might incorporate the presence of supernatural and superstitious beliefs. Supernatural literary elements and characters also promote uncanniness if writers manage to create a false impression of everyday reality. The uses of the supernatural in decadence are diverse, including facilitating the depiction of the soul’s decay and creating terror-instilling stories of individuals losing their minds.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. The “Uncanny.” Translated by Alix Strachey, 1919, Web.

Hoffmann, Ernst Theodor. The Tales of Hoffman. Translated by Reginald John Hollingdale, Penguin Classics, 2004.

Tanizaki, Junichiro. The Tattooer. Translated by Howard Hibbet, 1910, Web.

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PsychologyWriting. (2023, May 4). The Uncanny, the Supernatural, and Decadence. Retrieved from


PsychologyWriting. (2023, May 4). The Uncanny, the Supernatural, and Decadence.

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PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'The Uncanny, the Supernatural, and Decadence'. 4 May.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "The Uncanny, the Supernatural, and Decadence." May 4, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "The Uncanny, the Supernatural, and Decadence." May 4, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "The Uncanny, the Supernatural, and Decadence." May 4, 2023.