The uncanny is commonly evoked in the Gothic as one aspect of a broader campaign to create terror for the reader. David B. Morris writes, "For Freud, the uncanny derives its terror not from something external, alien, or unknown but--on the contrary--from something strangely familiar which defeats our efforts to separate ourselves from it." According to Freud, we find things to be uncanny (unheimlich) when they are familiar to us (heimlich or “belonging to the home") yet also somehow foreign or disturbing. Uncanny feelings can arise when something seemingly inconsequential in our everyday lives calls forth repressed content stemming from past experience, especially experiences linking back to childhood and our passage into sexual awareness.

Example: "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Gilman's feminist parable centers upon something that is very familiar (wallpaper) which yet evokes strange feelings and hallucinations in the character. Many critics discuss Dickens' ghost stories as prime specimens of unheimlich. See Freud’s seminal essay on E. T. A. Hoffman's "The Sandman" (“The Uncanny” [1919]), in which he explains Nathaniel's terrified association of the Sandman, an old and arguably benevolent device to get children to sleep, with the loss of sight.
Courtesy of Douglass H. Thomson, Department of Literature and Philosophy, Georgia Southern University

See also: eerie, plot devices.

Morris, David B. 'Gothic Sublimity' New Literary History, Vol. 16, No. 2, The Sublime and the Beautiful: Reconsiderations (Winter, 1985), pp. 299-319.




Horatio and Camilla; OR, THE NUNS OF ST. MARY. A TALE OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY [Transcript], Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson


The Mystery of the Black Convent. An Interesting Spanish Tale of the Eleventh Century., Unknown