While studying for question two for this week’s blog I discovered I had misinterpreted the word, “uncanny”. The exact definition, according to dictionary.reference.com is, “mysterious; arousing superstitious fear or dread; uncomfortably strange: Uncanny sounds filled the house.” The Uncanny then deals with thing beyond the ordinary, the supernatural. In Freud’s essay, he says, “[T]he uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar.” And “The German word ‘unheimlich’ is obviously the opposite of ‘heimlich’ [‘homely’], … the opposite of what is familiar; and we are tempted to conclude that what is ‘uncanny’ is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar.” I assume from reading this that while not everything new and unfamiliar is frightening, perhaps something unexplainable or unusual, and something that is so out of the ordinary it is disturbing.
In this sense, I believe that the relationships in this book between the parents and their children are part of the uncanny as well as the characters, particularly Eli. The parents and the relationships in this book are unusual, simply because they are not able to protect or understand their children in any sense of the word.
Tommy’s mother is oblivious to her son’s anger towards a new man in their life.
Dead is dead. Dead is dead. Dead is dead.
His mom shivered, pressed up against him.
“Yes, Staffan told me such an awful thing.”
Staffan. Couldn’t she keep herself from mentioning him, here of all… (p.181)
Oskar’s mother is blissfully unaware of the danger her son goes through both in school with the bullying and the dangerous people that are their neighbors, his father has the potential to be a strong guardian but his drinking turns him into something monstrous. And Eli’s ‘father’ or guardian, Hakan, is the one that is taken care of rather than the one that takes care of Eli.
“You don’t understand. You’re going to stop drinking now. You are going to be with me. You are going to help me. I need you. And I’m going to help you.” (p.215)
Yes Eli requires Hakan to get her food, but in essence he is the one that acts more of the child.
Also, the characters are not what they seem in this book. Perhaps the biggest example of the uncanny is Eli herself.
“Small, apparently innocent creatures
who are in fact not at all what they
seem: such is the substance of a fitfully
vital subset of the horror genre.”
This quote says it all. Children in horror movies are usually creepy. Perhaps this is because as a child, you are supposed to represent all that is innocent and pure yet so many take on horrible characteristics of sinners and murderers. And Eli isn’t the only one. Children in this book are selling their bodies for cash, they are acting violently towards one another and in Oskar’s case, have thoughts of murder and revenge. The children are far more tainted in this book than the adults are, it seems the roles are switched.